Shukuru Kalunga is not your average teen.

His everyday concerns aren't so much about what to wear, or how he'll spend his Friday night.

Kalunga, 18, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has gone through far too much to sweat the small stuff.

Threatened by rebels on a nightly basis, Kalunga and his family escaped the Congo and made it to Tucson where they've lived for the last two years.

Though there are no more rebels to fear, Kalunga continues to have his fair share of challenges.

In an effort to share his experiences and educate others about the life of a refugee, Kalunga has written a play, which will be performed Saturday night at Catalina Magnet High School.

The play, titled "The Unexpected," is free and open to the public.

The title of the play is fitting, as nearly everything Kalunga has experienced has been unexpected.

Before coming to the United States, Kalunga and his family were given high expectations.

"They tell you life is going to be this good, everything is going to be great," Kalunga said. "You're going to get people to help you out and everything you'll need, you'll get."

But six months into their stay, the Kalunga family felt abandoned by the agency that brought them here. They were no longer receiving assistance and getting a job was difficult when paired with a language barrier.

"It was really hard for me because I couldn't speak English, so it was hard for me to communicate or express my feelings," Kalunga said.

After about a year, Kalunga got a job at a Wendy's fast-food restaurant. In Kalunga's home country, kids are not expected to work, he said. Instead they are told to focus on their education.

"I got a job 'cause it was getting hard for my family to afford food, paying bills and the rent," Kalunga said.

While his parents never asked him to take on that burden, Kalunga felt it was his duty.

The search for employment turned deadly for Kalunga's family when his mother was killed in a rollover crash on Interstate 10 last summer.

She and other refugees had gone to Willcox to apply for work at Eurofresh, a hydroponic vegetable grower. The driver lost control of the van on the way home, leaving Kalunga's mother and five others dead.

Kalunga called his mother his closest friend.

"She had been through all the struggles," he said. "She would encourage me in my education, so losing her was like losing a part of my dreams."

But still, Kalunga did not give up.

He continued to make progress in school. He began writing the play about his experiences last year and has since garnered support from classmates and teachers to make the production come to life.

And he has his pick of three universities - Northern Arizona, Arizona State and Grand Canyon.

Kalunga said he's always dreamed of becoming a lawyer to advocate for others, although the war at home prevented him from receiving a proper education.

Despite the ups and downs of life as a refugee, he is appreciative he has the chance to make his dream reality.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at 573-4175 or