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How refugee women are helping with Colorado’s shortage of early childhood educators

How refugee women are helping with Colorado’s shortage of early childhood educators

When Khan Mwezi landed in Colorado eight years ago from a refugee camp in Uganda, she arrived with a high-risk pregnancy.

Her daughter, Martinode Hill Gift, was born prematurely and stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit for four months. During that time, Mwezi spent a lot of time with infants. As her husband scraped together a living for them, Mwezi attended to all her daughter’s special needs.

“Life was very, very difficult,” said Mwezi, who had no family support because most of her family was killed in wars and ethnic strife in the Congo.

Little did Mwezi know that seven years later she’d be back caring for infants, and filling a critical workforce need in Colorado. She’d landed a part-time job at an early child care center. The state’s early childhood worker shortage is most acute in infant and toddler care, with about half as many workers currently employed as are needed.

As an assistant teacher, Mwezi makes $14.77 an hour but she’s not stopping there. After she comes home from work and checks in on her eldest daughter and Martinode, now a healthy six-year-old, Mwezi hits the books in the family’s Aurora apartment. She is studying brain development, behavior management and cognitive development in children.

She’s enrolled in the Pamoja Early Childhood Education Workforce Program, a pilot program to increase the number of early childhood educators who are fluent in multiple languages and who can meet Colorado’s growing need for diverse educators serving young children living in poverty, dual-language learners and children with special needs.


-Jenny Brundin, CPR; Photo Kevin Mohat

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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