Desire: A New Beginning
Desire Bahombwa Asukulu arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on April 17, 2012, exhausted from the flight and over a decade of turmoil in his home country of The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). With him were his wife, Alphonsine, and their six children. As expected, the family was apprehensive about resettling in their new home; the life that they led before coming to Chicago left them with years of uncertainty.
In October of 1996, a brutal conflict was waged in the DRC between ethnic militias and the government. The rebels began coercing men to fight in the vicious civil war.
Often, those who didn’t join them were killed. In 1997, Desire – who refused to become a rebel solider – and his wife were forced to flee from their home by foot. They walked toward Tanzania for 3 days, seeking asylum in the neighboring country. Along with them were other townspeople, his elderly mother, brothers and sisters, and his wife’s family. Once they crossed the border, they were welcomed into the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp by UNHCR.
Life in the camp was challenging. Many died from illness and inadequate medical care. Provided with limited space, Desire built a small 25ft by 15ft hut, using cut wood they collected themselves. For a year, he and his wife grew idle with little work to do. But his 15 years of education – and his prior occupation at a non-profit organization fundraising for disadvantaged children – would prove useful in the camp. When a secondary school was opened in Nyarugusu, Desire was hired as a teacher, giving lessons on economics and finance. This new position allowed him to supplement the meager food rations they received. Despite the rough conditions, it was in the camp that all six of their children were born.
Upon his realization that the situation in the DRC was worsening, in 2002 he met with UNHCR officials to request asylum in another country. It wasn’t until eight years later in 2010 that the eight-member family was told they would be considered for resettlement. Though unsure of what to expect, Desire rejoiced in the good news. They would finally be leaving their misery behind. It was only one day before leaving Tanzania that Desire and his family found out they would be going to Chicago.
When greeted at the airport by RefugeeOne staff and a co-sponsor group from the Yale University Alumni Club of Chicago, his anxieties began to subside. He was overcome with, of all things, courage. Courage to begin his first job, English and ensure his children have a chance at an excellent education.
As the doors to their new apartment swung open, they were taken aback. They were no longer cramped together in the make-shift shelter they had lived in for 15 years, but were surrounded by the warmth indicative of a real home. The house, replete with all the necessities to start over, including clothes, furniture, and toys for the children, was more than they could have asked for. Desire and his family are endlessly grateful for the compassion that was, and continues to be shown by the Yale Alumni Club and RefugeeOne staff.
He is eager to begin his calm and conflict-free life. Once they settle in, Desire plans on accepting the first job offered to him. He dreams of continuing his education and providing a good life for his children. When asked if he wants to return home one day, he quickly replies “no,” and states that this is his country now.
As of September 17, 2012:
Desire has just been offered a job and will start working at the end of September 2012. He is completing his English Language Training at RefugeeOne and is enrolled in Computer Courses where he has shown excellent keyboarding skills —25 WPM. Desire is multi-lingual and speaks over 5 different languages.
Desire’s children have started school and Alphonsine, Desire’s wife, continues her English Language Training classes.
Your financial contribution can assist with the resettlement of families like Desire’s.
Abdulkarim: A Father's Journey
On September 7, 2011, Abdulkarim Arabab Lazim, with his two small children by his side – Abdulmunim (7) and Selima (5) – arrived at Chicago O’Hare Airport, exhausted after a long journey from Kenya. Their arduous journey originates in El Geneina, a village on the western edge of the Darfur region in The Sudan.
One evening, their village was brutally attacked and Abdulkarim – with his wife, son, and some elders – were forced to flee for their lives. They ran toward Nyala; only travelling through the bush during the cover of night. It took several months to complete their journey by foot.
After being told that Nyala was no longer safe either, the family began walking once again. This time they headed toward Kosti, a distance nearly twice as long as their first sojourn. After ten days of walking, a passing truck approached them along the road. At first, the small, frightened group believed the truck’s occupants to be dangerous, and were prepared to run for their lives again. Fortunately though, they were told they only wanted to help them; and they drove them the rest of the way to Kosti.
They left Kosti after a short time, when they heard that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) had established bases in Kadugli, near the Nuba Mountains. For Abdulkarim and his family, Kadugli symbolized a place for food, shelter and safety. Their daughter, Selima was born in Kadugli. In 2007, a few years after their arrival in Kadugli, an NGO worker told them that they, along with three other families, were chosen to be moved to a refugee camp in Kenya, called Kakuma.
At the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, Abdulkarim’s wife, pregnant with their 3rd child, was diagnosed with malaria. Although severely ill and hospitalized, she found the strength to give birth to a baby boy. Unfortunately, soon after their second son was born, Abdulkarim’s wife passed away. For some time thereafter, Abdulkarim walked an hour’s distance to get milk to feed his baby boy. In spite of this persistence, after five months, the baby died. Abdulkarim pleaded to be taken anywhere else. But he was eventually convinced to remain at Kakuma.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) then moved him and his children to a section of the camp specifically for widowed fathers. One day a list went up inside the camp listing the names of people who were approved for resettlement in the United States. Abdulkarim and his children’s names were on the list.
After completing the lengthy interview process, he was told that he would be going to Chicago. Although he was afraid of being the only family out of the entire group to be resettled in Chicago, he was comforted by the knowledge that he would be going to the place of Barack Obama’s home.
Abdulkarim is beyond grateful for the opportunity he has to begin a new life all over again. He is excited to learn, and his enthusiasm serves to inspire us at RefugeeOne. Abdulkarim is committed to working hard, so he can be a role model for his children; like any good father. He is patiently waiting for the day that he can tell his children about their lives in The Sudan and all the struggles they have been through. He hopes that they will achieve more than he can even imagine.
Hear Abdulkarim Tell His Story
As of September 17, 2012
Abdulkarim is currently attending English Language Training at RefugeeOne. He has been working closely with our Job Readiness Team to find employment. His children have started school.
Despite his enthusiasm, finding employment can be a difficult task for many like Abdulkarim who arrived with no formal education and very limited skills.
Your financial contribution can assist refugees like Abdulkarim with rent payments and other living expenses until they are prepared to enter the work force.
Htoo Eh: From Burma to Chicago
In the years before her life was uprooted by Burma’s military junta, Htoo Eh was a primary grade school teacher in Tay Dey, a village in southern Burma. She and her husband Kle-Klo Say had been married four years and had had two children before deciding their village was no longer safe, due to constant bombardment from the Burmese Army. Though the family was frightened, they were prepared for the arrival of the brutal military regime; inside their home was an emergency kit stocked with clothing and a few pounds of rice, ready for when the family had to flee at a moment’s notice.
The family travelled for one month through the jungle, resting on the ground of the dense forest. However, at each place they took respite, they would again encounter the Army and were forced to run off. Soon the family reached an area of the forest known as Ee Hto Hta. There, Htoo Eh and Kle-Klo Say created a makeshift home from bamboo. They stayed in their new “home,” for three months then decided the only way to remain safe was to go to a refugee camp in Thailand. However, by then, the Thai government had closed the Thai-Burma border where the camps were located so access to the camps was stopped. Their only choice then, was to sneak in.
It was an extremely risky move; risky because the Burmese border was only 2.5 miles from the camp. However, the family arrived at the Mae La Oon refugee camp in northern Thailand in 2006 after successfully traversing the carefully guarded Thai border. Though there were wooden houses set up in the camp, they were incredibly overcrowded, offering no privacy for the small family. So, like before, they constructed a bamboo hut for shelter. It was in the camp, in 2007, that their second daughter – Eh Htee Say – was born.
The conditions of the camp were hardly sanitary, consequently, every few weeks the children got sick. A year after their youngest daughter was born, the family experienced another hardship. Htoo’s husband, Kle Klo Say became sick and never recovered. In 2008, after seven years of marriage and three children, he passed away leaving the family fatherless.
Throughout the ordeal, Htoo Eh maintains that she was, of all things, lucky. Lucky to have arrived at the Mae La Oon camp when she did, for her family was among the very last group able to register for resettlement with UNHCR since 2006; thus their 5-year process of coming to the United States began.
Htoo Eh arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on November 3, 2011 with her three children – Soe K’ Paw Shee (9), Shee Say (7), and Htee Say (4) – and younger brother, Day Htoo (18). She is grateful for the chance she has been given. Here, her children have not been sick and are attending school. She says their apartment is warm and there are more than enough clothes for her and her family.
Her Baptist roots bring her to church every week, helping her to handle the challenges she faces in Chicago. She wholeheartedly appreciates the churches that helped co-sponsor her family. She is humbled by their collaborative efforts to furnish and set up the apartment before the family’s arrival. Their generosity has helped the family begin to live their new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance in the U.S.
She dreams of the day when her mother and sister, who are still in the Thailand camp, will join her in Chicago. She is eager to learn English so she can get her high school diploma. Although she is currently searching for any type of job, she hopes to one day return to her teaching roots.
And on her left hand, with painted nails, she still wears the wedding ring that was given to her a decade ago.
As of March 2012
Htoo and her family moved to Arkansas where, through a relative, she was able to find employment in the manufacturing field.
Your financial contribution will assist in the resettlement of families like Htoo’s.