Why America remains a beacon of hope for Liberian refugee

Why We Wrote This

Maddie Collins, a Liberian refugee who has become a pillar of her community in Helena, Montana, believes the U.S. will surmount its current divisions. Part 4 in a series on people who are successfully navigating America’s most intractable challenges.

When the war got especially hard – when bullets littered the streets and food was scarce in the Liberian capital of Monrovia – Maddie Collins would think of the mountains and streams of Montana.

There, on a ranch outside Helena, lived a family that had welcomed her with open arms as a high school exchange student. All during the Liberian civil war, she carried her Helena High School diploma with her in a secret zippered pocket. Those were harrowing times – sucking condensed milk out of a can for sustenance, having her home invaded in the middle of the night, taking refuge in the operating room of a hospital during a military raid.

Back in Montana, her honorary American family stood ready to host her again. On her first attempt, the visa official denied her application.

But her host parents lobbied their congressional delegation and, with the help of a local nursing school in Helena where Ms. Collins planned to enroll, they succeeded in securing her a student visa. Then, on the eve of her departure, she got two hard pieces of news. The United States would not allow Wilmot, her new husband, to accompany her. And she learned she was pregnant.

Ms. Collins went anyway, moved back in with the Nachtsheims, and enrolled in nursing school. When she went into labor, Mr. Collins was thousands of miles away.

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