I landed my dream job at Disney after growing up in a refugee camp. This is how I made it to Hollywood after a childhood interrupted by war

 I'm a production coordinator on "Marvel's Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur." I had a school counselor who let me know that Disney was interviewing for a career placement program. In the program, you're not an intern — you get the job title and you learn the job while you're in it for three months. I applied, got accepted, and was placed on a show called "DuckTales." I was hired full-time when my placement was over and had the opportunity to interview and move over to "Moon Girl." I love that the animated protagonist is a little black girl who fights bad guys and loves music.

My journey to this job was certainly not a conventional one. My family and I are originally from the Congo. I was born in 1996, during the time of the First Congo Civil War. When my mom was pregnant with me, she and my family were trying to get away to safety. They gathered what they could and fled over to the next country that was available to us, Tanzania, which was accepting refugees and helping them

My family experienced a lot of loss escaping the Congo before I was born 

I had seven siblings already, and I would be the eighth. Sadly, as they fled, we lost a brother. I was told he was shot in the war fighting. I really felt for my mom hearing that, because she couldn't stop when he was hit, as it would've endangered her other kids. Once they made it to Tanzania, we were welcomed there as refugees, and I was born soon after. 

We lived in the refugee camps. The Tanzanian camps were very, very hard for my mom to raise us in. We moved to a lot of different camps, while she tried to find which one would be better for us. When I lost another brother, this time to sickness in the camps, my mom moved us to Mozambique.

Mozambique is where my childhood memories start because I was about four or five years old. We stayed in the Mozambique refugee camps as well, which were very similar to the Tanzanian ones as far as food and water are very limited. 

Living in the refugee camps was hard on my family

Refugee camps are always put out in the villages area of the country, and the 'houses' aren't really houses — they're built out of mud (or like clay) with leaves on top. If you had a house made of cement, it was like you were rich. Then for water, each area would have a pump. In the mornings, the camp would open up the water for everyone to get some, and then it would get turned off. If you missed the water in the morning, then that would be your only chance for the day.

Maggie Bushiri and family in Tanzania
Food and water were always a source of stress when living in the refugee camps. 
Courtesy of Maggie Bushiri

Food for school was also a very hard thing to get. Every family in the camps would get food once a month — and since we had such a big family, the food wouldn't last the entire month. So we'd be left like, okay the food is gone, what do we do now? We'd try to plant some stuff or go around and ask neighbors. I remember as a kid crying to my mom about being hungry. 

The school was a three-hour walk away — so picture this: You have a long journey to get to school, you're hungry the whole time, and when you're done with school you have to do the journey again. Basically, you're not learning anything because your body is only focused on the food it needs. 

We got the chance to come to the States in 2005

When I was seven years old, my mom got in contact with someone that knew of the UN Refugee Agency in America. Our case was approved, so they picked a state randomly for us, got us an apartment, and transitioned us over. I remember asking my mom, "What is America?" because I'd never really heard of it anywhere outside of where we were.

Maggie Bushiri and family, arriving to the States
Our apartment in the States felt like luxury after what my family had been used to. 
Courtesy of Maggie Bushiri

We got on the plane and flew from Mozambique all the way to Salt Lake City. They dropped us off at a four-bedroom-apartment. When we got inside, I remember thinking, "Oh my gosh, this is heaven." A representative from the refugee program showed us how to use the stovetop, and the bathroom — all luxuries we hadn't had before. We opened up the fridge, and there was already food inside.

That was 2005. Life was a lot easier after that point — at least until 2019 when my mother passed away, and my siblings and I were nearly separated. My older sister took us in, and I lived with her and did pretty well in school, which got me some good scholarship and financial aid offers. I also developed a passion for the entertainment industry, first as a dancer and performer; later I started to have an interest in TV and film production.

To my family's surprise, I turned down my college acceptance the summer before the school year was supposed to start, and moved to LA instead to pursue my dream of being in the entertainment industry. After getting there and struggling a bit, I landed my role at Disney.

I love that I can bring my experiences to my work and honor my family's struggle

Marvel's Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur still
"Moon Girl" is a character I can be proud to be part of. She reminds me of myself. 
Courtesy of Marvel

One thing I love about working on "Marvel's Moon Girl" is that my experiences as a black woman are always considered in how they can inform the character. I love to weigh in on things like her hair texture, for example. I gave the team a literal picture of the hair stuff I keep in my bedroom, and they actually put it in Moon Girl's room on the show. There are other little things like that, that make me feel like the character is part of me.

I have a bunch of nieces and nephews now, and they can look at Moon Girl and see themselves in her character and her "I can do this" attitude. I love that I'm having a real impact. It's been a long journey to get here, and it means a lot to me that I'm giving back. I never saw much representation growing up, but now I get to help bring that to other kids, and it feels great.

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