Why One Man Fled His Country With Only $400 in His Pocket

A comfortable life didn't come easy for Ben Christopher Nganoah.

It’s one thing to move to a different state, but another thing to leave everything you know behind and move to a different country. But that’s exactly what Ben Christopher Nganoah, a trans man from Central Africa, did.

Nganoah came to America as an asylum-seeker from Cameroon with $400 in his pocket and no place to call home. Fast forward to today, and the Cameroon native has a stable income and a decent-paying job, and one could say he is on the way to achieving the American dream. But even though Nganoah found success in the U.S., the road to get there was long and difficult.

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Although his heart will always belong to Cameroon, Nganoah did not feel welcome in his home country because of his association with the LGBT community. Homosexuality, for example, is still illegal in many parts of Africa, and there continues to be violence against the LGBT community in Cameroon. After being persecuted as a trans man, Nganoah finally made the decision to leave his home country and begin a new life in America.

“At a certain point, I made a decision to live my true self — my true life as who I am — and in my country, it’s not at all possible to go through the transition I am going through,” he said.

From there, Nganoah applied for a visa and got approved. Shortly after, he booked a flight to the U.S., packing his visa, birth certificate and a few sets of clothes, and headed to Los Angeles. But when he finally touched down in California, he experienced mixed emotions.

“If I have the choice of living somewhere, I would be happy to be living in my country,” he said. “But I can’t because of who I am. It’s sad because I left over there people, my family. But (I am) also happy to be here because it’s kind of liberation (sic) for me.”

Although the move was exactly what he needed, his move also brought on brand-new challenges. With no roof over his head, Nganoah reached out to a friend, who sheltered him for two and a half years. During this time, Nganoah frequently visited the Program for Torture Victims, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping victims of torture from over 70 countries.

“Through a friend, he told me about this organization P.T.V. (Program for Torture Victims) and he told me, ‘I think they can help you for (sic) in your process,’ because I didn’t even know where to go, what to do and where to start,” Nganoah said.

With the help of the organization and his friends, Nganoah managed to make a comfortable life for himself. The Program for Torture Victims helped him get a lawyer and apply for work authorization, and he ultimately secured American forms of identification. Not only that, but the organization also helped support him financially, at times supplying him with bus tokens.

Now with a job as a security guard, Nganoah can relax a little, take care of his bills and enjoy the life he worked hard to get.

“What I would like to tell people is don’t let anybody guide your life,” Nganoah said. “You are the master of your life. Nobody can work in your shoes — only you can do that and you know how it feels not to be happy. And the right decision is to follow your dream.”

Although he is working as a security guard, Nganoah hopes to return to his original profession as an engineer. Nganoah is currently seeking asylum and hopes his story helps others see the humanity in immigrants and other asylum-seekers.

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