It’s been a tough last few months. Fidel, Ruth and I have all suffered a bit through the seemingly endless job of trying to keep his family safe, fed and educated – none of us moreso than Fidel though. Whereas this is something that Ruth and I feel strongly about, for Fidel it carries the incredible burden that he’s now the primary support for his entire family. It was clearly such a blessing for him to find, first his brother and sister, and then his parents and his other siblings, and then to be able to bring them all together in Uganda. With that blessing, however, comes the reality, and the perpetuity of their situation.
As refugees living in Uganda, it’s virtually impossible for Papa, Mama, Arnold or any of them to get meaningful work to try to help support the family. Although there are supposed to be policies in place to restrict discrimination towards refugees, it’s difficult to enforce when there are many Ugandans without work. Papa is trying to find work, by risking much and crossing back into the Congo to do some trading business. It’s not enough though. So Fidel, with our help, still feels the incredible burden of having to support them from here. With the economy where it is here, and Fidels hours being cut back at the hotel he works at, that’s getting harder and harder.
The ideal at this point would be to get them all brought to the US as part of the family reunification act, but the US Federal government has shut down reunification in Africa due to past frauds. Although there are rumors it is to open up again in a few months, at this point they’re just that. Rumors.
To pour salt in the wounds, Fidel found out just this week that his older sister, who still lives in Congo, lost her husband this week to illness. She is now alone with 3 children living in his family’s village. That is a frightening position for any woman – but in the Congo it is potentially much worse. Not only is there no man to protect her from the dangers of living in the Congo, or to provide for the family, there are cultural practices that may have her banned from the village. Ours is not to question cultural practices, but this one increases the burden felt by Fidel immensely. Were money not an object, the obvious solution would be for her to move to Kampala with the rest of the family. Fidel, however, even with our help, doesn’t have the resources to take on 4 more people, three of whom need to be in school. His vision for the future is waning as he struggles with the pressure of what to do.
So – the light in the tunnel. 2 of the kids we’ve been sending to school have ended this school year with the top grades in their respective classes. That’s simply huge any way you look at it. As children who weren’t going to school before they moved to Kampala, they have clearly worked very hard for that accomplishment. That kind of commitment is, we believe, in every person in that family, so we know there’s hope. Also – Ruth’s cousin Grace and her daughter Carolyn were able to be in Kampala recently and spent a long time getting to know the family. That connection, and the insights we’re able to receive from first hand encounters like that, are wonderful for Fidel, and for us, second only to being there personally. Which is a good segue into the last really positive update. Fidel leaves mid-July for a 4 week visit to Africa. He’ll be spending some time at the World Cup, a lifelong dream, but he’ll also be visiting with the family he hasn’t seen since he was 13 years old. The visit itself will be wonderful, but at this point we’re all hoping it provides Fidel some ‘face time’, on the ground in Kampala, to help pull resources together and help the family take the next step towards self-sufficiency. Fidel is a magician and we have big hopes he’ll be able to make stuff happen.
I’ll end with something to think about. This story is played out a hundred, maybe a thousand, times each day in Boise. The refugees that enrich our community here all have some of the same struggles Fidel has simply to make livings for themselves. Many, however, also have families back in their home or asylum countries. I heard a statistic from Michel Gabaudan, the U.S. and Caribbean representative to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), when he was visiting here recently. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but it was something like, for every refugee that is able to get relocated out of Africa, there are 100 left to fend for themselves in refugee camps or as urban refugees. How do we help them?
Don’t let that statistic overwhelm you into complacency, or apathy. It’s easy to do. Instead, find a way to help one. If you’re inclined, buy Fidel’s book or donate. If you’d rather, make contact with a refugee here in Boise and support him or her and their family. The easiest way to engage is one at a time.