Hakuna Matata: One of Casper's newest United States citizens shares her journey (PHOTOS) - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Hakuna Matata: One of Casper’s newest United States citizens shares her journey (PHOTOS)

Salome Kerecha embraces her daughter, Christeen Mwango Howse at a naturalization ceremony in Casper on Monday. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — One of Casper’s newest naturalized American citizens has been working on her English in classes at Casper College’s Adult Learning Center.

Salome Kerecha was one of 20 newly naturalized United States citizens who attended a ceremony celebrating their new citizenship status on Monday, Jan. 13 at the Ewing T. Kerr Courthouse in Casper.

Kerecha moved to Casper from Kenya five years ago, coming to live with her daughter Christeen Mwango Howse. She lives with her daughter and her son-in-law Jerry Howse.

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Kerecha (right) with son in law Jerry Howse (second from right) daughter Christeen Mwango Howse (second from left). (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“My first language is Kiswahili,” Kerecha said on Monday.

People may recognize a phrase from this language that was used in the Disney film “Lion King.” That phrase is “hakuna matata,” and can be roughly translated into English as “there are no troubles/worries.”

Kerecha is a member of the Kisii tribe in Kenya and moved from a town called Nakuru, located northwest of the capital city of Nairobi. She has three sisters and seven brothers.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

Kerecha says her daughter studied for two years at Casper College before attending the University of Wyoming. Her daughter now works at the Central Wyoming Counseling Center.

With her son in law and daughter working in Casper, the family plans to stay here. Kerecha came to Casper shortly before her granddaughter was born, and now she enjoys taking her granddaughter on walks around the neighborhood.

Kerecha’s granddaughter, back left, stands at the ceremony on Monday. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

Keracha says she is grateful to her daughter and son in law for welcoming her into their home.

“I love them and they have been a tremendous help to me,” Kerecha says. “[My daughter is] an amazing girl because not too may girls like to fight for their mommies. They are just amazing.”

Kerecha had never seen snow before coming to Casper.

“We have two seasons of weather [in Kenya],” she says. We have the rainy season and the dry season and that is it. We don’t have snow.”

Kerecha shakes hands with a veteran. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“So when I came here, I was like, ‘Wow! What is this?”

When she first arrived in Wyoming there was snow on the ground. While she’s adjusted to the cold now, Kerecha says she thinks she got sick at times due to the cold when she first arrived.

About two years ago, Keracha’s son in law encouraged her to begin taking classes at Casper College.

While she’d taken some English at school back in Kenya, Kerecha says that teachers at Casper College have helped her work on pronunciation and improve her reading and writing skills.

She went on the embrace the veteran at the ceremony. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“When I came here, I find it is a little bit hard to understand,” she says. “But now I have really improved because my teachers have helped me a lot how to to pronounce, how to write, how to speak and I’m so thankful for this school here because I’ve learned a lot.”

She says without the help of her teachers, she doesn’t think she could have passed her oral test when she applied to become a U.S. citizen. Her daughter and son in law are busy with their work, so the classes at CC really helped her ramp up her studies.

“I’m gaining confidence,” Kerecha adds.

One of Kerecha’s instructors is Kat Bohr-Buresh, who says that students learning English at Casper College’s Adult Learning Center come in with varying levels of proficiency.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“[English] is a non-phonetic language so there are 44 sounds but three billion ways of spelling those sounds,” Bohr-Buresh says. “That makes it really difficult to read and write.”

Kerecha says she was initially hesitant to come to classes at CC because learning language when you are older can be difficult.

“I’m good now and I make friends with my classmates,” she says. “We are a team. They are amazing. Our teachers are amazing. I just appreciate that.”

Bohr-Buresh says that since many students come from countries with collectivist cultures, classes at the Adult Learning Center tend to feature a lot of teamwork because that makes the students comfortable.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

She adds that another nice thing about the classes is that they are free and entirely voluntary. Students are encouraged to attend as many classes as they can, but if they have work or other obligations, attendance is not mandatory.

Bohr-Buresh adds that the Adult Learning Center currently has room to welcome ten new English as a Second Language students.

In addition to her classes at CC, Kerecha says she relied on books and audio to prepare for her citizenship test. She says she took her books with her everywhere, taking advantage even of breaks at work to study.

CC instructors also helped her learn how to use a computer for her studies, something she’d never done before.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“I didn’t know anything about computers,” Kerecha says, adding that at first, she didn’t even know how to turn one on.

But once she learned, she relied on the computer to look at how naturalization interviews are conducted so that she could get ready for her test.

“The computer helped me a lot because now when you see people being interviewed with the the officer, you see how they ask you questions,” Kerecha says.

She only began studying for the oral exam in October or November.

When she went in to take the exam, Kerecha says that a “tall lady” asked her a number of questions. Those included things like how many amendments are part of the U.S. Constitution, why the flag has fifty stars, who Americans fought in the Revolutionary War or what the significance is of Sept. 11, 2001.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

One advantage of becoming a U.S. citizen is that she’ll be able to get a visa to visit home and will also be able to vote.

“It makes you feel sort of confident and things like that,” Kerecha says of passing the exam. “I think it will help me because I don’t need to go and renew my green card. And also I will have an American passport, which will enable me to go whatever I want to go.”

“I miss Kenya because my siblings are there and my mom. After I get this, this year, by God’s grace, I will go to Kenya.”

Christianity is a central part of Kerecha’s life and she first attended Highland Park Community Church when she moved to Casper with her daughter. She later moved to Word Christian Fellowship Church because she likes the pastors there and enjoys their sermons.

Former Wyoming Governor Mark Sullivan sings along to the National Anthem as the Natrona County High School Color Guard present the colors. (Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“When I was in Kenya, I’m like an evangelist going and telling people about Jesus,” Kerecha says.

She’s continued telling people about her faith while in Casper.

“My passion is I like sharing about Jesus,” Kerecha says. “This last year, I got four people to come to the Lord because I testify to them and I told them about Jesus.”

One man told her he was having problems with his heart and Kerecha says she prayed for this man, adding that she thinks this played a role in his successful recovery following an operation.

“I told him that doctors treat us but God heals us,” Kerecha says.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

Moving forward, she plans to continue her schooling and continue caring for her granddaughter who she refers to as “my princess.”

Her granddaughter will turn five this year and Kerecha says she is teaching her some words in Kiswahili.

“I also want to teach [her] because if we go Kenya she will be able to communicate with people there,” Kerecha explains.

Her granddaughter knows how to say is “habari yako,” which means “how are you?” or “asante sana” which means “thank you.”

In her classes at Casper College, Kerecha used her newly learned computer skills to put together a PowerPoint presentation teaching classmates about life in Kenya.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

“Some people don’t go to school because they don’t have enough money and some children don’t have shoes,” Kerecha says. “When people come [to the U.S.] from Kenya and see the opportunities, you want to make use of it if you have this.”

Kerecha and her daughter send money back home to help kids in Kenya including a girl she considers an adopted daughter. While she couldn’t formally adopt this orphaned girl because she was too old, Kerecha is helping support her education.

“She’s my daughter,” Kerecha says, adding that the money her family sends is supporting her to go to medical school at a university in Nairobi and are helping her pay for rent.

Another adopted daughter stays with Kerecha’s family in Nakuru.

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

She says that she enjoys life in Casper, particularly the new friends that she has made. While she likes most aspects of the town, she misses the ability to eat fresh vegetables from a garden.

“Everything is organic from the garden and it’s fresh,” Kerecha says.

She cooks in Casper and has brought dishes in to share with classmates at Casper College. She’s made “mandazi” which is a fried bread similar to donuts, except that it is not sweet and is flavored with lemon.

Casper College has also facilitated Nordic ski trips up Casper Mountain and takes students out to Alcova Reservoir and Independence Rock. They’ll return to the mountain to go snowshoeing in February.

“I’ve never seen a mountain like this,” Kerecha says, adding that the water in Fremont Canyon similarly impressed her. “I enjoy it.”

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

As she’s gotten more confident in English, Kerecha says she’s been able to help classmates when they have questions. She adds that her classmates come from places like China, Thailand, Mexico, Senegal and Bolivia.

She encourages people to consider taking classes at the college because her experience has been so good.

“I would like to encourage people to come,” Kerecha says. “Ones who come from different countries can come and learn a second language, it would help.”

Kerecha’s family, teachers, church members and friends attended the naturalization ceremony on Monday.

“I am so overjoyed today,” Kerecha said during the ceremony. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)

Judge Scott Skavdahl, who presided over the ceremony on Monday, said he felt his “soul recharged” by the enthusiasm of the new citizens.

Former Governor Mike Sullivan and various other groups presented the new citizens with words of encouragement and gifts.

Bohr-Buresh talked about what it is like to see her students’ succeed..

“As an immigrant myself, you know, I share that connection with them about trying to make a life in a new place,” she said. “We all come from different places. It’s very diverse. And so that’s really fulfilling because I get to be with people from all over the world but to help them navigate American systems and to learn to to find their niche.”

“That’s amazing to have these success stories where you know students are working hard and then they achieve some kind of goal with citizenship or a work training or getting a better job, you know, getting a driver’s license. To take that test in English it’s hard and so those milestones we get to celebrate together and that’s hugely fulfilling. All of the people in our program are just eager to be here and eager to be productive members of our Casper community.”

The following twenty individuals attended the ceremony, becoming naturalized United States citizens:

(Brendan LaChance, Oil City)