Our guest from India orders a large pot of tea, perfect to stay warm indoors and away from the rolling thunder.
As the storm gains momentum outside, Muhammed tells us about how he emigrated to London over 18 years ago. Like so many before him, Muhammed left behind a family in search of the financial means to provide for them.
“I have four children. Two boys and two girls. They’re all living in India.”
Muhammed’s voice fills with pride as he tells us about his daughters, who are 21 and 24 years old. One is studying for an MBA in Aviation Technology. The other is studying for a BTEC in Information Technology.
“University is very expensive in India. My daughter has to travel 150 km to get to the nearest university. She has to stay in a hostel nearby, so I pay for the hostel and her food.”
Now that his daughters are of age, there are matrimonial expenses to consider.
“I want my two daughters to get married, but you need £52,000 to get just one daughter married.”
Our mouths drop open, astounded by the whopping, non-negotiable figure.
“I’m a Muslim, so we need to pay a dowry, which pays for jewels, a home, a car…”
In India, it’s common practice to expect or even demand a dowry from the bride’s family. A dowry refers to an amount of money, or tangible assets, that a bride offers the bridegroom and his family. Without it, the groom’s family may not accept the marriage proposal.
After getting his daughters married, Muhammed tells us his next challenge is providing for his sons’ education. At the time of the interview, his sons are 11 and 13. It’s the same situation as with his daughters: tuition, transportation, and lodging fees. These are expenses he’ll need to save up for before moving back to India.
When asked if he’d stay in the UK, he answered, “The people in London are very polite. It’s very neat and clean. It’s a safe country. The only problem is money… If you don’t have any savings, you can’t do anything.”
Muhammed’s vision for his future seems as clear as day. He knows exactly what he wants to do, when, and how.
“After two or three years, I’ll go back to India… I want to start a traditional biryani restaurant.”
Biryani, a fragrant rice dish cooked with spiced meat and vegetables, is popular in India. Muhammed’s native town of Tamil Nadu is no exception, located on the south Indian coast where he plans to set up shop.
According to Muhammed, it’s cheaper to run a restaurant business in India. However, his biggest motivation for moving back is the work-life balance.
“Here [in London], I wake up, go to work, go home and go to sleep… that’s it! But in India, if you start a business, you have enjoyment. You can go out with your family. You can go to parties.”
Even though Muhammed wants to move back, he’s encouraged his children to give London a chance. Thanks to their education, Muhammed is confident that they’d have a bright future in England.
At Ria, we are proud to support migrant workers like Muhammed. Through his hard work, he’s provided his children with an education and the means to create a better life for themselves.
We believe being apart is already a steep price to pay, so we put great care into providing the most efficient service for our customers.
If you’re living abroad and looking to send money to India, you can check out our payout locations here.
Imerson’s story starts at the young age of 26 when he left home in the West Africa’s Ivory Coast. He emigrated to London as a student to pursue his higher education. Back then, completing a course was a condition for migrants to be granted a British residency permit after graduation.
“My biggest accomplishment has been finishing my studies because it’s a part of you. It can’t be taken away from you. With it, you can go anywhere.”
Despite the struggles he faced living in a foreign country, Imerson passed all his exams, earned an MBA in Business Management, and landed a job as a hotel manager.
When asked where he found his relentless motivation to succeed against the odds, Imerson was quick to reveal it was thanks to Richard Branson’s autobiography.
“In life, you can succeed at anything when you put all of your trust and focus on achieving it.”
Family plays a central part in Imerson’s life. Once settled in London, he got married and had three children. They’re now nine, eleven, and sixteen.
Our guest’s voice fills with melancholy when he tells us how much he misses his father back home in the Ivory Coast.
“I’m lucky that my father is still alive. I send him money on my birthday.”
Although Imerson can only go back home once every two years, he’s happy that he can care for his father’s financial wellbeing from London. But our guest values something more enriching than money. He places a high value on human interactions that come from the heart.
“Everything here is about money”, asserts Imerson, with feelings of disappointment in today’s culture of endlessly chasing after wealth.“Today, the value of personal connection has been lost.”
Imerson reminds us of something we sometimes neglect – the value of picking up the phone and calling a loved one to find out how they are. This should be a habitual action, and carries more weight than just sending a check.
In life, you need to focus on what you want to be. I see friends who came from overseas who forget where they come from and their purpose for being in Europe, or anywhere. I tell my sister that life is not easy, but, if you really want what you want, you’ll get it. Many people who come here [and don’t succeed] have changed their mind. “
Despite having fled poverty and earned the right to stay as a permanent UK resident, Imerson has other plans. His big eyes light up and a smile beams from his face as he tells us about his bright future. Our guest plans to return to the Ivory Coast and invest in farming. He wants to grow cocoa and develop a rubber plantation. In fact, his business plans are already set in motion.
“At the moment, I have bought 15 acres of land for a rubber plantation.”
Imerson’s motivation to become an entrepreneur in his home country was spurred by the success of his friends who achieved the same. Like him, they emigrated from the Ivory Coast to for better professional training in their host country. They also built up the funds they needed to develop a flourishing business back in the Ivory Coast. Imerson is keen to follow in their footsteps and eventually retire there.
Ria is proud to help entrepreneurs like Imerson achieve their dreams of retiring back home with the financial freedom they’ve always wanted. Millions of migrants like him use money transfers to build a business abroad, setting the path for their eventual return and furthering their communities’ development. At Ria, we’re honored to help them in their journey, giving customers the possibility of bridging the distance between where they work and where their heart is.
To read more stories like Imerson’s, check out our The World We Share series here.
In the past century, women’s rights have come a long way. However, there is still a long road ahead, especially for women working within the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Today, we’re sharing the stories of two brave Latina women who thrived against all odds in the tech field.
Patria, our Product Management Director, and Jessica, one of our product managers and a member of Patria’s team, have been working in our LA office for a few years. Their stories are filled with unique challenges and valiant showings of grit and resilience. Stories that they kindly shared with us over coffee a few months ago.
Meet Patria: a Dominican New Yorker in love with California
Patria’s immigrant journey began when her father became a political prisoner at the age of 23. After his imprisonment, he moved to New York so he could start over.
New York had been a simple choice for him, given he already had cousins who lived there in Washington Heights. He started his career as a delivery boy for a local deli, bringing lunches to Wall Street executives. In no time, he was promoted and became a cook.
“Back then, migrating wasn’t that complicated. He just walked into a Social Security office, announced he had just moved there from Santo Domingo, and got his social security card,” explained Patria.
Patria’s mother had also moved to New York in search for a better life. She was a single mother and had found it difficult to provide for her kids if she stayed in Dominican Republic. The youngest of a large family and raised in the small town of Ocoa, Patria’s mother had not been able to pursue an education. So, she packed her bags and moved to the United States.
By the time they met and married, Patria’s parents were set on working hard and saving as much money as possible to return to Dominican Republic. Their dream was to gain skills and a good income so they could open their own business back home. Upon returning to Santo Domingo, Patria’s father opened the first Dominican car rental company.
“I still have their bankbook, and you can see how they’d make weekly deposits into their savings account. In 1973, they withdrew all the money and we left for Santo Domingo,” shared Patria.
Although her father felt Dominican Republic was a safer and more peaceful place to raise his daughters, Patria always felt the urge to return to the United States.
“I’m very Dominican, but I loved living in the States and had made up my mind about it. Every summer we’d go to New York to stay with family. It was like my summer camp,” said Patria.
After graduating from college in Santo Domingo, Patria decided to pursue her master’s degree in Boston. Furthering her education was also the only way to get her family’s blessing to immigrate.
Joining the corporate world
She studied Marketing, Communication, and Advertising, but didn’t experience any real culture shock as a student. It was only when she started working that she realized how much American corporate environments differed from Hispanic ones.
“That’s when I felt what my parents must’ve felt when they first came to the States. To grow professionally and reach the point where I am now, it was hard. I didn’t have someone who could guide me and tell me how things are done,” said Patria.
Growing professionally was even more challenging than expected for Patria. Although she studied marketing, she ended up transitioning into the technology field thanks to her product management skills. Not only did she have to work harder because she didn’t have a computer science degree, but also cope with not being taken seriously as an immigrant woman of color in a male-dominated industry.
“You have to work extra hard for people to believe that you have the skills and capabilities to do the job. It’s something I’ve experienced throughout my professional career, needing to give my 200% to prove my worth. To prove that I am as capable and as knowledgeable as any man, and that I can get the job done as well as or even better than them,” shared Patria.
Patria is equally proud and aware of her position as a Latina woman in technology who is tasked with managing engineers. At first, it was challenging to navigate the role, often, her skills were put into question. People couldn’t understand how she had gotten as far as she had. But it became easier when Patria focused on the fact that everything she had achieved had been born out of hard work, experience, learning, and curiosity.
“For me, solving problems fuels my creative side. I haven’t seen it as a roadblock, but I’m always aware that I am a Latina in technology, in a male-dominated industry, and that I have an accent. Every time I go into a room, a meeting, I’m aware of that, and the way I handle things, myself, and situations, even the way I make decisions, I always operate through that lens,” said Patria.
“It’s something I’ve experienced throughout my professional career, needing to give my 200% to prove my worth. To prove that I am as capable and as knowledgeable as any man, and that I can get the job done as well as or even better than them.” — Patria Cabral
Looking back, Patria doesn’t feel like she’s lost a big part of her culture or identity. For her, there were intricate parts about Latin culture that she didn’t subscribe to even before immigrating. While growing up, it was expected for women to fill a role and check of boxes like getting married and having kids, but Patria says she was never like that.
“In the US, there’s always this conversation about being integrated or assimilated. I’m very adaptable and feel like I have assimilated the culture for sure, but at my core I’m still very Dominican. I love the food, the music, the way I talk. I speak a lot of Spanish at work and everyone I talk to know the colloquial terms now because I use them often,” said Patria.
Having adopted the culture of her new home, she can switch comfortably from one culture to the other.
“One thing that is well-known about Dominicans is that we’re very warm and hospitable. I do miss that. I miss that I could just show up at somebody’s house and someone would welcome me in even if my friend wasn’t there. The mom or someone would be there to offer you coffee.”
Meet Jessica: a first-generation college grad
Over 30 years ago, Jessica’s parents emigrated from Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Having grown up in an agricultural environment, where farming and selling produce was prioritized, her parents weren’t able to pursue an education full-time.
“My dad was forced to work because his dad passed away at the age of eight. He had to help his mom raise his brothers and sister in whichever way he could. So, he took on different jobs like washing cars and collecting parking money,” shared Jessica.
Eventually, he made his way up, finding better jobs and salaries. But he still felt there was something missing. He had seen how people from the town were emigrating and were then able to send money back to the country. It became clear to them that there were better opportunities out there. In the end, he decided to pack his bags and chase the American Dream.
At a very young age, Jessica had to learn how to translate so she could help out her parents, often not knowing if she was saying the right things.
“My mom went only up to third grade and my dad up to sixth grade. They just learned the basic addition, multiplication, subtraction, some writing and basic reading, but in Spanish,” explained Jessica.
Once in California, her mom went into babysitting and her dad turned to construction work. While her mom would get more customers thanks to word-of-mouth, landing construction jobs was a matter of luck and speed.
“As a jornalero, my dad had to stand in these parking lots where people who needed workers would drive by and say, ‘Oh, who’s looking for a job?’ and everybody would rush to that one person to make money for the day,” shared Jessica.
Even though they’ve been living in California for over three decades, Jessica’s parents are still not fluent in English. In part, this is due to the kindness shown by many employers who tried their best to communicate in Spanish. Overtime, the did pick up words and learned the basics.
“My grandparents didn’t push my parents to study, whereas mine did. They always said I should have a better future because that’s why they had moved here in the first place,” said Jessica.
The math prodigy
Since childhood, Jessica had always known she was good at math. In third grade, Jessica’s teacher had given each student a poster board where they could collect stickers for completing their multiplications. It became apparent to her then that she had collected an insane amount compared to her classmates.
“Math came naturally to me. As I grew older and got to higher math like algebra and calculus, I’d look at a math book and just love how they were steps to each problem. I’d learn them, do my own problem, and get to an answer. It was so satisfying. I didn’t have to read anything,” shared Jessica.
Because her parents didn’t know English, they couldn’t help her with her reading and writing assignments. However, math was a different story.
“Numbers are just another language. You don’t need to know English or Spanish. It’s the universal language, and I really wanted to apply it somewhere that involved thinking about ways to solve things. I like solving problems, that’s my thing. That’s why I went into computer science. The coding part was ok, but I really enjoyed the theoretical classes like linear algebra, which involved some coding but mostly thinking,” said Jessica.
Jessica always knew she wanted to go to college. It had been her parents’ dream for her and something she had worked hard to achieve.
Now, she works directly with engineers in our IT department and enjoys receiving feedback from them.
“If they tell me to do something in a better way, I just take that as a chance to get better. I’m usually very quiet, but it’s because I’m absorbing information and really trying to learn. I’ll be taking notes and grasping everything that’s been said,” she said.
For Jessica, food is what ties her to her culture. This is thanks to the fact that her mom still cooks everything her own mother taught her. Recipes that have been passed down through generations.
“We eat a lot of estofados and moles. One of my favorite dishes, which is jocón, I bring to work at least once a week. It’s green sauce with chicken and rice. Food is definitely what ties us to our culture because we still eat traditional dishes to this day,” shared Jessica.
The family tries to visit Guatemala at least once a year.
“Numbers are just another language. You don’t need to know English or Spanish. It’s the universal language, and I really wanted to apply it somewhere that involved thinking about ways to solve things.” — Jessica Palacios
Whenever she visits, Jessica is moved by experiencing how her cousins’ families eat all three meals together. In comparison, Jessica would rarely see her parents growing up. She’d be enrolled in after school programs so her parents could go to work and was dropped off at 7:00 a.m. even though school started at 8:30.
“I wish I would’ve had my parents around more. Because of their sacrifice, I always had a roof over my head, a plate of food, and clothes to wear. Nothing was ever missing. I had what I needed because my parents worked so hard, but they sacrificed being with me to provide for me,” Jessica shared.
When Patria met Jessica
By the time Patria started working at Ria, she had become a mentor for immigrant women who, like her, were looking to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). She realized that her journey would’ve been smoother and less challenging if she would’ve had somebody to show her the ropes. At the same time, she knew she wanted to help minorities, people who came from immigrant families and who had a similar background.
“I always say two things to the girls that I mentor. The first one is that their uniqueness is their asset. The fact that you’re diverse and come from a different culture is your asset. Why? Because you see everything through a different lens. Instead of diminishing that, you have to amplify it and grow it. The second thing is that they belong, and they shouldn’t let anybody tell them otherwise,” said Patria.
“When I was in computer science classes, most of the classes had only like three girls out of the 35 students. The girls and the Hispanics, who were also minorities, would try to stick together. In that group, I made a friend who had been involved in STEM before me. She told me about this program and said I should apply,” shared Jessica.
After submitting her application and being accepted into the program, Jessica was en route to landing her first internship. However, life had an additional challenge in store for her. Before senior year of college, Jessica became pregnant.
“The fact that you’re diverse and come from a different culture is your asset. Why? Because you see everything through a different lens. Instead of diminishing that, you have to amplify it and grow it.” — Patria Cabral
Juggling her pregnancy and the uncertainty and senior year did put some stress on Jessica. Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait long to hear from an internship opportunity she could take. The co-founder of the STEM program she had joined got in touch with her about a project management internship opportunity at Ria.
“She forwarded me the job posting, and I read through it. I found there were a lot of bullet points that I was already tackling in my senior design program. I gave it a shot and emailed Patria. She set up an interview, and she asked me some questions over coffee. I was nervous because all of my previous interviews had been over the phone, so this was my first face-to-face, and I straight-up told her I was nervous when I got there,” recalls Jessica.
Jessica landed the internship, which could be extended between 3-6 months based on her performance. We can now tell you her performance was stellar.
“The day before graduation, Patria called me into her office and asked if I wanted to be a full-time employee. That was the best gift. I gave the big news to my family after I graduated. I said, ‘I just wanted to let you guys know that I’m a full-time employee!’ Funny thing is, I had told one of my coworkers I was worried I wasn’t doing well that very morning,” said Jessica.
When it comes to Jessica, Patria has only praises. “She is a really hard worker, and it probably comes from seeing how her parents worked so hard to get to where they are and to give her a better life. The thing I’ve noticed about Jessica is that she takes constructive criticism very well. It just doesn’t faze her. Because she saw the grit and the determination and the struggles that her parents had to face, she understands that for you to get better, there have to be ways in which you grow, and sometimes growing isn’t easy.”
At Ria, we are proud to count with such astounding and hardworking women in our team. People like Patria and Jessica help us grow not only through the professional skills they bring to the table but also through their energy. Their drive and rich experiences enable us to provide the best service to our customer, a service that helps open ways for a better everyday life.
We’re in a cozy London coffee shop, each with a cappuccino in hand. As the raindrops patter on the pavement outside, Angelica tells us about her journey from Colombia to the UK.
“I’m from Colombia,” starts Angelica. “From the city of Medellin, the most beautiful place on earth.”
Our cheerful 73-year-old guest is clearly proud of where she’s from, eager to highlight the life she enjoyed back home.
“I had a good job working as a secretary, earning good money.”
But Angelica’s life didn’t come without its hardships. As she clutches her coffee mug and looks downwards, she tells us about her marriage at just 16 years old. Pressured by her parents into marrying a man who abused alcohol, she later gave birth to a boy and a girl.
“In those times, you got married simply because that’s what your parents expected from you, not because of love,” she says.
Concerned for the financial and emotional wellbeing of her children, Angelica took her two children and moved in with her sister. However, she quickly found that her money supply was running scarce as her family’s sole breadwinner. It was then that Angelica decided to emigrate to London with hopes of growing her incoming and sending money back to her sister and children.
Angelica’s sadness in leaving behind her son and daughter strengthened her determination to give them a better life than they would have had if she had stayed.
Then our mouths drop, speechless when Angelica tells us how quickly it took her to start working in London… just three days from arriving in the UK.
“I arrived at the Immigration Centre on a Saturday. My friends came to visit me on Sunday at my hostel in Brixton. They told me that I would start working on Monday.”
Angelica endured long, tiresome shifts, day and night as a cleaner. But she was quickly promoted until landing a supervisor role, in which she worked for the last ten years of her career. This gave her the financial means to follow through with her commitment to provide for her children in Colombia.
She sent money regularly to her sister who was looking after her two kids, as well as her own. She funded her children through university. She even bought each of them a house, giving them the independence to finally move out of their aunt’s home and become self-sufficient.
“I supported them a lot, which is why I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in my life. Even with my pension, I continue to help them out.”
A big smile beams from Angelica’s face as she tells us about the joy it brings her to stay in touch with her family. The wealth she built up gives her the freedom to go back regularly to Colombia and spend time with her son and daughter.
“We go on trips together… to Cartagena, Santa Marta, Barranquilla, San Andres…”
She emphasizes that she is now a great-grandmother and loves chatting with her family on video-calls.
“Gabriela, my great grand-daughter, is just four years old. She calls me Nanny. When we’re on the phone, she wants to see me on video. She says to me, ‘Nanny, Nanny! Show your face, I want to see you!’ She’s adorable.”
Having lived in London for almost 30 years, it begs the question if Angelica will ever return back to Colombia to live permanently. When we ask, she replies with a firm “no.”
“I will never go back to live in Colombia. I will die here. I love my country a lot, but I have everything I need right here… I live like a Queen!”
Angelica’s bold decision to emigrate to London allowed her to protect her children financially and care for their wellbeing. Her financial support meant they could finish their education and build bright careers in Colombia.
At Ria, we are proud to serve customers like Angelica, bridging the distance that separates them from their loved ones. Angelica’s accomplishment in building and sharing her wealth via money transfers provides hope to millions of immigrants around the world and serves as an inspiration to thousands of Ria employees. We’ll continue working hard to open ways for a better everyday life for you and your family.
It’s been pouring over London all day when we meet with Tenzing. He’s dressed to impress, comfortable in his workspace, and ready to talk to us about his journey from India to London across the huge world we share.
Tenzing’s story begins in an area called the Seven Sisters of India, where he was born into a Nepalese family. Because this land used to be part of Nepal, most of the population is of Mongolian descent and speak Nepalese.
“When I tell people here that I’m from India, they always tell me I don’t look it. The same thing happens to me when I visit central India. Even the way we talk in Hindi is different, so people there just assume we are foreigners,” shared Tenzing.
As a kid, Tenzing spent most of his time away from home. This is the case for many children in Indian who live far from major cities. In his hometown Darjeeling, a hill station famous for tea, it’s hard to pursue schooling past an elementary level. So, children are sent to the big metropolises across the country and to attend boarding schools.
“The mentality back there is that you get a good education in boarding schools because you’re not being distracted by other matters. So, I moved around,” he says.
He lived in Calcutta for six years, where he pursued his bachelor’s in Business Administration and Marketing. He recalls that, even though he was still living within India, people still regarded him as a foreigner.
After graduating, pursuing a master’s abroad seemed like a natural progression for Tenzing. Some of his friends had moved to London and regarded the city as immigrant-friendly, so he packed his bags and set out to complete his MBA in Marketing.
“The loneliness is different from when I was in boarding school. Back then, I could still travel to see my parents regularly, but, living here, I don’t see them often. Here, if you have any difficulties, you have to wait to get holidays and money for tickets,” shared Tenzing.
For the first year, Tenzing lived with a friend from college. Although he welcomed the familiarity at home, he did have to learn how to navigate life in the UK. Because the cost of living is very high, he had to make time to cook his own meals in order to survive. His parents did send him money, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet without a job.
“Going outside and getting to know the culture was hard, but, since I knew how to speak English, it wasn’t that difficult,” says Tenzing. “The main difference is that people back home are more relaxed. People have time to chat with you or grab a cup of tea. They can sit for hours without thinking about what they have to do. Here, to meet with a friend, you have to book an appointment.”
For Tenzing, London is a land of opportunity. While he’s in good health and earning money, he sees himself staying in the UK. Although he’s fond of his family and his country, going back would imply starting over and leaving behind everything he’s achieved so far.
Back in Darjeeling, his siblings are already involved in the family business, which his father built from the ground up.
“When my father was growing up, they didn’t have many luxuries. He was the eldest, and everyone before him had been a farmer. So, he started his own business and gave opportunities to my uncles and everyone even though he didn’t have that much formal schooling,” he shared.
Even though his father couldn’t speak English, he kept going. He brought up four children and was able to send them all to boarding school.
“There were a lot of sacrifices from his part, and hopefully I’ll grow up to be like him. He went from the village to the towns creating his good name. Everybody knows him,” Tenzing added.
Soon, Tenzing will visit home for the first time in three years. As he reflects upon the trip, he regrets the time he’s missed. His uncle’s daughter was born over a year ago, and he has yet to meet her.
“Once you have your own family, you are even more occupied with your personal life. Your parents are also getting older, so you want to spend more time with them. Sometimes I want to bring them here and show them around where I live, where I work,” says Tenzing. “If I have enough money someday, then yeah, I’d move back and talk for hours with a cup of tea.”
Tenzing is our Sales Manager for Ria in the UK and one of the 258 million migrants who have left their home countries in search of something more. While their experiences and sacrifices are different, they all share a common goal: making the most of the world we share to create a better life for themselves and their families.
Ria is made up of people like Tenzing, committed to their roots and devoted to their host countries. As a company of immigrants for immigrants, it is our duty and honor to serve the millions of families around the world who depend on our money transfer services to open ways for a better everyday life.
It wasn’t until he moved to London that Dualeh learned trees could lose their leaves. In his native Somalia, it’s always summer and children are rowdy and free to run around the fields.
In London, Dualeh was to be well behaved and adhere to a curfew, keeping him inside the small home he shared with his aunt and cousins more often than he would’ve liked.
Given he could barely speak English upon arrival, attending a local school proved to be a major challenge. Without enough vocabulary to express himself, Dualeh struggled with most classes and wasn’t able to ask for help from his teachers.
“But math? That was another story. Math was easy in comparison to what we used to do in Somalia. Even when you are little, the math you are taught is very advanced. For us, algebra is nothing. I would finish the practice super quickly and would have to wait for the rest of the class to be done. Then, people would ask me how I had done the equations, but I didn’t know how to explain. I’d tell them, ‘Give me your pen, and I’ll show you how to do it,’” said Dualeh.
In due time, Dualeh made his way to college and became interested in IT. Despite his fascination for technology, his life plan remained unaltered: to graduate from college as quickly as possible and land a job in retail. And that might’ve been the story if it wasn’t for one of his teachers, Ebow, who made him question his decisions.
Ebow recognized Dualeh’s potential and encouraged him to apply to 10 universities around the United Kingdom. With Ebow’s recommendation letter, Dualeh decided to give it a shot.
“I had never thought of myself attending university or anything of the sort, but we did it. I applied, and eight out of the ten universities said yes. I hadn’t even finished college. Here, in the UK, you usually need to have finished your A-levels. I couldn’t believe it. Not even my English was good enough yet,” Dualeh shared.
To this day, Ebow and Dualeh are best friends. They’ll meet up to have dinner once in a while and keep in touch by phone. For Dualeh, Ebow has been the most influential person in his life, and the same goes for many other students. Ebow had a habit of opening up his classroom after school so students could use the space to study and ask him questions. During his college years, Dualeh saw thousands of students come into his sessions, even some who were already in university and needed help with projects and dissertations.
Although Dualeh was excited to pursue a degree in IT, university wasn’t a walk in the park.
“I nearly dropped out within the first seven months because the classes were so tough. But I started staying at the library day and night, and when the tests came, I was first in my class,” remembers Dualeh.
Now, Dualeh works at Ria UK’s IT department and is married with two kids. Every couple of years, he’ll visit Somalia to see his parents, yet he can’t help but feel his children need to spend more time in their motherland.
“In my country, you don’t feel alone because everybody is like family. The children are playing outside, and if anything happens, anyone can come up to you and tell you to behave, even if you aren’t related. That’s how our community is. Everybody’s looking after you,” he shared.
When Saico was four years old, his mother had to leave him behind in Guinea-Bissau to deal with a family situation in Senegal. Two years later, she went back to get him and his brother.
It was hard for the family to adapt to their new country where they didn’t speak the language or understand the system. It was a family friend who, after noticing Saico was always at home, gave him a Senegalese name, Cheikhou, and enrolled him in a local school.
By the time Saico had gotten used to living in Senegal, his mother had to return to Guinea-Bissau. So as not to interrupt his studies, Saico had to become separated from his mother once again.
“I had to live with strangers, which wasn’t great because those were big family houses where you had to fend for yourself,” shared Saico.
He stayed with one family for a couple of years but had to find a new place to live after the father, the head of the household, passed away. This tragedy left Saico without options. If he couldn’t find somewhere to live in Senegal, he would have to drop out of school as his mother had feared.
But karma came to Saico’s aid.
Saico lived with his friend’s family right up until 2000. That year, his biological father came to get him. He hadn’t seen since infancy. He offered to bring Saico to Spain, where he was living with his new wife.
“I was there for a year, but everything got complicated. He didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him. We weren’t getting along, so he deported me back to Africa. I was there for six years until I could come back,” said Saico.
Although Saico was hurt by his experience living with his father, he knew he needed to keep going. Now back in Senegal, he accepted the fact that he’d never return to Europe. He got to work, learning how to make decorative art to sell and enrolling in computing school.
Years later, when Saico was already making a living fixing computers, his mother and step-father offered to sponsor his European visa. Saico accepted the proposition. He was young, able, and had no romantic attachments after having recently broken up with his girlfriend.
But Africa was not ready to let him go.
Upon arriving in Spain in 2007, Saico received a phone call from his former girlfriend, informing him that he was going to become a father.
Now, Saico had a purpose. He started by working with a group of Syrians in construction installing plasterboards. Every month, Saico would send money to his newborn daughter, keeping for himself only enough for rent.
The following year, Saico was able to get all his Spanish paperwork approved and got a job at a department store. Unfortunately, he found himself unemployed soon after.
“I moved to Portugal, where my mom and her husband were living, because I had no job and didn’t have money for rent or to send home for my daughter. But then, as I was getting ready to find work, I found out that my Spanish papers weren’t valid for work in Portugal. I didn’t want to waste more time doing nothing, so I went back to school,” Saico shared.
“I barely spoke Portuguese, but I would sit at the library trying to decipher the textbooks, asking for help on the internet so I could study for my tests. The problem was: if I passed the test, it still didn’t mean I had a job, and if I didn’t pass the test, I didn’t know how I was going to get a job.”
Ten days before his exam, Saico traveled back to Spain. To continue supporting his daughter, Saico stopped by the city hall to ask for a subsidy. To grant it, the government needed proof that Saico was sending money to Africa. So, he went to the Ria store to ask for his records.
“The cashier recognized me, saying he hadn’t seen me in a while. I told him it was because I didn’t have a job, and he said I should leave him my resumé. They hired me a week later after they confirmed I spoke seven languages and knew some computing,” said Saico.
The best part? He also passed the test.
“After five years, I went back to Senegal to see my daughter. I had already moved on romantically, had dated around, and was now in a committed relationship with a woman I loved. But when I saw how my daughter was living, alone at home while her mother was in another city trying to make a living, I had to make a choice,” Saico shared.
“For me, that wasn’t living. I couldn’t bear to see my daughter grow up like I had, without her parents. So, to break the cycle, I married her mother and brought them to live with me. I could’ve just taken my daughter, but it wasn’t the right thing to do. Plus, even though I sent money every month, it didn’t mean I knew what they had been through. The other woman felt betrayed, obviously. But, it’s a sacrifice I had to make so I could give my daughter what I never had.”
Now, the family lives in Spain. But, as luck would have it, Saico is currently based in Lisbon following a promotion to store manager. Still, he travels back and forth as often as he can.
When asked if he’d return to Senegal, he said it’s definitely in his plans for the future. He misses the quiet and admires the intellect of its people, who always work hard to ensure the country keeps progressing.
When we set out on our customer stories journey, Saico was the first person who volunteered. Strong-willed and service-oriented, Saico epitomizes not only the Ria spirit but the makings of a true, self-made migrant.
A true autodidact, Saico has measured up to face every challenge that has come his way.
“Life’s always had some new surprise in store for me, but I take it slowly. You can’t back down. You always have to think that you can do it. If you don’t, you’ll fall apart. I’ve lived through my fair share of things, like everybody, but I don’t complain because I’m doing good now. I always think that everything happens for a reason and that, if you keep strong in your faith and never throw in the towel, eventually your day will come, and you will be fine. You need to fight for what’s yours.”
If you’d like to read more stories like this one, we invite you to check out our The World We Share series.
By the time we reach Praça de Figueira, Ofelia’s photochromic lenses have turned purple. It’s a windy morning in early fall, but the sun is keeping the plaza at a pleasant temperature. Ofelia’s excited to participate but confesses showing up took some convincing from her sister. She says she’s not sure there’s a story to tell but seems eager to talk as we press record.
As we begin our conversation, Ofelia shares it’s been six years since she left her native Philippines. When we ask why she left, she warns us the reason is far from joyous. In 2004, her husband died of cancer at the age of 40. Now a widow, Ofelia became the sole provider and caretaker for the three sons he left behind: a seven-year-old, a six-year-old, and a 9-month-old baby.
“At the beginning it was fine,” she says. “My sister helped me, and, since the kids were small, so were the expenses. But as they got older, my salary wasn’t enough.”
Ofelia started searching for new opportunities, trying to find a way to make ends meet as a single mother. That’s when her sister suggested she moved to Portugal with her. It was a tough decision, leaving her kids behind in the Philippines, but her sister insisted, “I can invite you here, and then you can decide whether you want to work or go back,” she would tell her.
In the end, Ofelia chose to stay and work, driven by the possibility of giving her children a better quality of life. “When I first got here, I worked as a caregiver. I had previous experience, but it’s difficult to work with people who are bigger than you when you’re the one supposed to carry them,” she says.
It took a couple of career switches until Ofelia found a job she truly enjoyed. She now works in domestic services and finds the pay is good, and the schedules are flexible. As Ofelia explains the details of her working week, there is a triumphant air about her. Yet, her voice cracks as she thinks back on her family.
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced was leaving my kids. I remember thinking I was too emotional, but I feel all mothers are. I cried a lot, and I still do. I didn’t see them for three years when I first came because I needed to sort out my paperwork. I still long for them, but now I go home yearly, so at least I have that time to be with them,” she shares.
Although there are seven thousand miles between them and a seven-hour time gap, Ofelia still manages to be a present mother. She calls her children every day and is in touch with all their teachers so she can make sure they’re doing good in school. Her youngest son, now 15, is an honor student. “At least with that, I forget that I work so hard. It makes me stronger,” she tells him.
The biggest challenge I’ve faced was leaving my kids. I remember thinking I was too emotional, but I feel all mothers are. I cried a lot, and I still do.
Of course, it’s not all rainbows. “It has been devasting,” Ofelia shares, “whenever I hear, ‘Mom, I’m sick,’ because I can’t be there. All I can do is tell them to go to the doctor. They have to take care of each other.”
For Ofelia, missing home is a disadvantage of going abroad, especially when it comes to the language. Although she has friends in Portugal, she fears it’s not the same. She misses her culture and bonding with her friends.
“It has been devasting whenever I hear, ‘Mom, I’m sick,’ because I can’t be there. All I can do is tell them to go to the doctor. They have to take care of each other.”
Despite the challenges, she does grow fonder of Lisbon every day. “There are good people here, good food, and beautiful places. The weather is also great. We don’t have winter in my country, so it’s nice. I’m beginning to like it, really,” she says. “Also, the pollution. The air here is so clean compared to the Philippines. Good for people with asthma. My three kids have asthma, like their father. Still, when I think about my country, I feel lonely.”
Ofelia gets to visit home every year, but still wishes she could spend Christmas with her kids. Right now, it’s hard to get enough days off work to make the trip during the holiday season.
As we take her pictures, Ofelia poses willingly. She’s happy to be out and about, walking down streets as our photographer snaps a few shots from across the road. “I hope they turn out good,” she jokes, “I’m still single!”.