SOUTHWEST ASIA – Every two years, 100,000 Kenyan applicants receive a letter notifying them they are qualified to possibly receive a green card that would allow them to become permanent United States residents.
In March 2010, Kevin Yator -- then an actor on a Kenyan soap opera -- received a congratulatory letter from the U.S. State Department notifying him that he would receive a green card.
"I was in search of better opportunities, and my cousin, who was living in the U.S., encouraged me to pursue a track scholarship," Yator said. "She also said I should apply for the visa lottery. So, in 2009 I went into a cyber cafe and applied."
Yator described his life before coming to the United States as "mayhem." His mother died when he was a senior in high school, forcing him and his brothers to find places to live, because their father was not a constant presence in their lives.
At the time, Kenya was experiencing post-election violence, Yator recalled. In 2007 and 2008, 3,000 people were killed in tribal clashes.
"I moved in with a friend and started theater acting," he said. "I began acting on a popular drama series called 'The Team,' which was created in response to all the violence during the elections."
In 2010, the Public Broadcasting Service produced a segment about the series titled, "Soap Opera for Social Change," and reported that “The Team” was about a co-ed team of young soccer players in Nairobi, all from different tribes, and that in Kenya, “tribe is a very big deal."
Yator and other cast members toured Kenya and had numerous screenings for large groups of young people. At the end of each screening, they held town-hall meetings and discussed the show's diversity, unity and tolerance messages. The show had a TV audience of more than 2 million viewers, according to PBS.
After moving to the United States in 2010, Yator lived with his cousin in the Washington, D.C., area, while working two retail jobs and attending college. At the end of 2011, another cousin who had retired from the U.S. Army told him about the benefits of enlisting.
"I could go to school and earn money," Yator said. "He also said the Air Force was more career-oriented and there would be more room for growth."
In March 2012, Yator enlisted in the Air Force. The regimented life at his Kenyan boarding school prepared him for basic training. "It was fun."
One of his proudest moments was being named honor graduate at the end of his five-month technical school, where he learned how to take care of an installation's water utility and sewer systems, as well as its fuel infrastructure.
"Growing up in Kenya, I learned humility, patience, and respect,” he said. “That has really helped me in the Air Force."
Yator is pursuing a bachelor's degree in corrosion control, and wants to become a petroleum engineer.
Now an airman first class, Yator became a U.S. citizen in August 2012. He's currently deployed to the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.
"I haven't been back to Kenya since I left, but I plan on traveling there this year with my other cousins who are in the Army."
Yator, who is stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., reflected on what his new country meant to him growing up.
"We saw America as a place that was welcoming, where there were opportunities and room to grow."