At just 22 Nya Wan has seen first hand the consequences of war and prejudice.
She has seen buildings and people blown up, and dead bodies lying in the street.
“I’ve seen the worst of the worst,” Nya says. “Too much.”
Nya was born in South Sudan and escaped conflict between warring factions in that country when her family made their way to Kenya.
Her father got a job with the Kenyan government.
While life was better in Kenya, she says it wasn’t ideal.
“Where do I even start? Life is so political there and our people are destroying each other in ways that they think is normal,” Nya says. “We just wanted somewhere calm to live.”
She says Kenya has had the same government for 10 years with no change, lots of corruption and growing disparity between rich and poor.
“People who speak up get hurt or killed,” Nya says. “It is not a place to be at all.”
Nya says things are also quite different in Sudan and Kenya compared to Canada when it comes to relationships. Men can have as many wives as they like and her father has many wives.
As a result Nya has a large extended family on her father’s side.
But she says her mother is a Christian and doesn’t believe in men having more than one wife.
Her parents split up amicably when she was about 13, and her father helped her mother to immigrate to Canada with her and her two younger brothers.
They had planned to go to New York City but the quota for immigrants there was filled so they chose to live in Vancouver.
“We saw snow for the first time in Toronto,” Nya says. “My mother said don’t touch it because we don’t know what it is yet.”
In Kenya she says television programs are all filtered so they had never seen snow before.
As she and her brothers started school in Canada, so her mother also returned to school to become a computer and office assistant in order to provide for her family.
“I really enjoyed high school in Canada. Life is a lot calmer here,” Nya says.
She worked hard to become an honour student and enjoyed singing and taking ballet and jazz lessons, also teaching dance to younger students.
In Kenya, she says school wasn’t as pleasant.
On her first day of school going into Grade 1, Nya says her mother took great care to braid her hair. She had to wear a school uniform, but she forgot the handkerchief, a miss her teacher noted during the inspection lineup.
For that infraction of the rules, Nya says her teacher shaved her head bald. She says the girls normally got a short haircut when they started school, but only the boys had their heads shaved bald.
Like First Nations people in Canada, she says it is a struggle to keep the indigenous languages in Africa from being lost.
Nya speaks four languages fluently. Sudanese is her first language and she also speaks French, English and Swahili which are all spoken in Kenya.
“On Fridays we were not allowed to speak our own language,” Nya says. “If you spoke your own language you would have to wear a huge yoke around your neck.”
Nya decided early on that she wanted to become a nurse and worked hard in high school to earn good marks, even taking summer school courses to prepare for nursing school.
“We didn’t have a lot of what you have here for health care.” Nya says. “All of the health care in Kenya is private and people can’t afford it so there is a lot of sickness that goes untreated. It’s a really different life from here.”
After high school Nya took the six month care aid program at Vancouver Community College so that she would be able to work her way through nursing school.
She took courses online through Trinity Western University for the first year of the Licensed Practical Nursing Program.
Then last September she moved to Williams Lake to complete the second year of the LPN program at TRU.
To pay for her schooling she works as a health care assistant at the Seniors Village and on call at Cariboo Memorial Hospital’s Gateway clinic.
She is scheduled to write her LPN exams soon and then begin her preceptorship, which she expects will take place at Cariboo Memorial Hospital.
Between work and school she doesn’t have a lot of time for fun, but says she does enjoy getting outdoors with friends biking, boating and doing yoga when she has some free time.
“I like it here,” Nya says. “I am going to stay here for sure. I like where I work and I like the life here.”
Nya encourages others who experience such hardship not to lose heart.
“It is possible to get through the hard times and to succeed,” Nya says. “You never know what people have gone through.”