The following text is from an interview conducted on August 10, 2017 by WRC volunteer Piper French.
S lives just off of Broad St. with his seven children. His youngest, A, is three; the eldest, C, is 23 and married himself, though his wife is still in the refugee camp in Uganda where S's family lived for 11 years before finally being resettled.
During his time in the camp, S’s back was broken twice; he wants to be able to work in the U.S. but is plagued by persistent health problems. When I came to his house for this interview, he was watching a Bollywood show with his youngest children before a doctor’s appointment. We started out speaking in French, but he quickly switched to Swahili in order to be able to better express himself.
Where are you from?
Congo - Congo Kinshasa - because, you know, there are two Congos.
How long ago did you arrive in the US?
I arrived in September 2016. Almost one year ago.
How have things changed for you in the past year?
Things are good. —I’m going to speak in my own language because I don’t want the important things to get lost.— Since we arrived, we’ve had to deal with changes related to the climate —winter was one of the first experiences we had here, which was really difficult. Where we’re from, there’s no snow! But, little by little, with the people we’ve met here—the community, our brothers, the organization Women’s Refugee Care— we’ve been supported. They were the ones who welcomed us, who came to greet us at the airport.
What did you expect before you came to the US?
Before we came, we knew that we were going to live in the US, but we didn’t know what type of people we would meet. We didn’t speak English; we couldn’t talk. But we met WRC at the airport with Dorcas International caseworkers. We were really happy because we spoke the same language, Swahili. We were reassured—they said “everything will be all right here.” Even our fears about the weather— then when we saw WRC, our brothers from the Congo, we saw that they were able to learn to live with the climate, so we had hope for ourselves.
We were a little worried for the children - how they would adjust to school, how they would communicate with the other students, establish themselves. How to get around, leave our house, get to work or other important places. We were new, so we were very confused. We didn’t know how things worked.
Dorcas helped a lot, but the greatest contribution has been WRC. They helped us a lot - they brought us out, to the market, to the hospital. We were very afraid about the adjustment, but now we feel supported. We feel like things will work out.
Leaving our country, leaving the life we led up until now, is truly not easy. It hasn’t been easy. But for the moment, we feel that it’s going to be okay. We have hope. No refugee has had it easy. Life has been really tough. We were in the refugee camp in Kampala (Uganda) for eleven years. It was terrible. Here - here is better. You can’t compare life here to the way life was in the refugee camp.
How has WRC helped you with the adjustment to life in Rhode Island?
They gave us a washing machine, because all those types of supplies are so expensive, so
we wouldn’t have had the means otherwise. They gave us cleaning supplies, which really helped. They gave us clothing, shoes. They gave us a computer! (gestures). Yes, it was Women’s Refugee Care who gave me this computer. I have it right over here.
Have you been involved in WRC’s mentorship program?
We did participate in the program. When we arrived in the US, it was right around the presidential elections. It was a really hard time for us, full of confusion, with this new president who apparently didn’t want any refugees here in the US. We suffered greatly. Dorcas tried to support us and offer us mentors, and WRC offered us mentors. We get along well with these mentors - Americans who have showed us their world. Their children play with our children. They bring our children to different spots to play. They bring us out, to the market, to discover our surroundings. They support us, teach us English, bring us to the library. They help us learn how to use the computer (laughs).
Its must be good to know that people in Rhode Island want to support refugees, that they’re not on board with the current president’s anti-refugee sentiment and actions, that they’ll try to help.
With these people to support us, we have hope that things will be better. WRC helps us a lot, in every way. They do everything to make sure that we can adapt to life here - day by day, little by little. They stay close. They’ve helped facilitate communication, each time we need to to go to medical appointments for different problems. They’re really a huge support.
Because of this support - from my brothers, from the organization—I really like this state, Rhode Island. I don’t think refugees have so many problems here. Dorcas supports us when we arrive…and WRC goes in-depth, because they’re always with us. They really understand our needs.
Anything else you would like people to know?
I’m grateful to the U.S. for welcoming me. My country has been at war for years -- I lost everything there, even the land itself. But the US accepted us, and that makes me really happy. It makes me forget, just a little, what I went through in my country.
I’m also grateful to Dorcas and to WRC, who work as volunteers. The way that WRC supports us is really impressive...I hope that they can grow a little and have more support so that they can continue to help the new families arriving. We just want to be autonomous, live from our own resources. We want our children to succeed, go to university, become great people in society.
This interview has been translated, edited, and condensed.