YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s a long way from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hellam Township, York Co. And the physical distance wasn’t half the challenge facing Makaya Revell after a change in government — in 1997 when Revell was 11 years old — in the central African country previously known as Zaire.

His parents worked for the old government. “So they came after my family,” Revell said. “They killed my father. And I had to flee the Congo.”

Makaya told the story to middle school-age students at the York Academy Regional Charter School.

At 16, Makaya became a refugee: a stowaway on a cruise ship “with no food, no nothing,” refused entry by several countries until he managed to enter the U.S., where Drs. Elizabeth and Alvin Revell of York adopted him — you can read more here or listen to Revell tell the story here.

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Revell said his story began like countless others. “The difference between my story and other refugees is the people I have around me. I have tremendous support,” he said.

Alan Neff, who teaches social studies to seventh- and eighth-grade students at York Academy, educates the students about refugees — they were finishing a unit on African refugees, in particular, when Revell visited. Considering everything the students had already learned, why did Neff feel the need to invite Revell to speak to them?

“It’s not just learning for learning’s sake,” Neff explained. “There’s actually a personal connection they can make.”

Neff has invited Revell to speak in previous years. What kind of impression has he made on the students?

“I have received hundreds of letters from students I have spoken to in the past,” Revell said. “And a lot of them got involved” in his foundation, which supports an orphanage in Revell’s home country.

After hearing so much about Revell, ShaTayla Bailey, an eighth-grade student, couldn’t wait to hear from Revell himself.

“I was just really amazed that people would be able to take that long of a journey without food, without water, without resources that they could have,” Bailey said. “And to know that I could meet a real-life refugee and talk to him about his experiences is really exciting for me.”

“I feel like it’s important to connect real-life to school because most times you think, ‘Oh we’re not going to use that in real life.’ But to know the things we’re learning in here are correlating to real-life” makes the lessons more meaningful, Bailey said.

“These are issues that, even though we live in a town in central Pennsylvania, are things that they will have to address — are things they will really have to consider to be citizens of the country and of the world,” Neff said.