Arnold and Judith Nshombo  are Fidel’s younger brother and sister.  Arnold is currently 17 and Judith is 19 years Arnoldold.  They were separated from the family when they were 6 and 8 years old.  Soldiers raided their village in Bukavu, Congo, broke into their home and started assaulting their parents.  An older sister ran out of the house with Arnold and Judith, and the three of them ran from their village.  A day later, soldiers caught up with them, took the older sister and told Arnold and Judith to run.  That was the start of more than a decade on their own without their family.  For several years they lived in Goma, Congo with a minister who had them do work around his church.  They worked in his church in return for his food and shelter.   When the minister moved to another country, he drove Arnold and Judith to the Congo-Uganda border and told them to try and find a church in Uganda to help them.  They eventually got to a church that sent them to a refugee camp there in Uganda.

In 2007 the Red Cross found them and through an amazing program they have, determined that they might have a



relative in Boise, ID.  They contacted Fidel.   When Fidel first made contact  they were confused and suspicious about who he was.  They were so young when they last saw him and so much time had passed.  Eventually, he earned their trust and he sent them money to move out of the refugee camp.  The camp offered them no education or healthcare and Fidel worried that it was a dangerous place for kids to be.  They rented a room in Kampala with no running water.  That was their life when I became aware of them about a year ago.  They remain in Kampala, but a lot has changed since then.

In the Fall o 2008 Arnold started emailing me.  Fidel had given him my email address and suggested he practice his English by writing me.  I fell in love with this kid in about 2 emails!  He attached himself to me quickly too, as his emails addressed me as “Mama” within the first week of writing me.  Like Fidel, Arnold has a wonderful way with words.  I immediately felt connected to Arnold and Judith’s life in Kampala – and I knew they needed help.  What future did they have alone in Kampala?  Fidel had looked into getting them to the U.S. and there were not any avenues to bring siblings.  We needed to think both short term and long term for them.  In the short term we needed to find them a safe place to live and try to offer them an education.  In the long term, we needed to look at where and how they could have a future with the ability to sustain themselves.  We were in the throes of trying to answer these questions when things changed dramatically in their life.

November 24th, 2008.  Arnold emailed Fidel and me that he had received a correspondence from the Red Cross saying his parents may be alive along with some younger siblings in a “camp for displaced persons” in Rwanda.  Arnold and Fidel were doubtful about the claim after so many years.  Arnold was certain they could not have survived the violence in their home the last time he saw them over a decade ago.  He sent a message back to the Red Cross with his cell phone number but suspected it would turn out to be someone other than his parents.

Meanwhile, Fidel called another brother in Rwanda with whom he has had very little contact, but whom he knew was alive.  He told his brother about the email from Arnold and asked him to try and help locate them.   On Thanksgiving Day Fidel got a call from his brother in Rwanda.  He had in fact located their parents, 2 younger siblings and 2 younger cousins all in a refugee camp in Kigali, Rwanda!   The parents were equally thrilled to learn about Fidel, Arnold and Judith’s survival, and decided to set out for Kampala, Uganda immediately.

The details are sketchy but Fidel says they probably walked out of the camp without telling anyone (so as not to be

stopped) and found a low security place to cross the border from Rwanda into Uganda.  Just a few days later, however, we got an amazing phone call.

The first message we got that day was a text message from Arnold: “I prepare myself to go to the park to meet my

Papa and Mama Nshombo

Papa and Mama Nshombo

family.” Several hours later came another text  message:  “Hi Mama, can you imagine what joy we have after 10 yrs of separation we meet again with our family, this is the happiness day in our life.” (Let me tell you, that was a world class day in my life too!).

A few hours after that, my phone rang.  Arnold had called from Kampala and insisted that I talk to every member of the family, many of whom I had to dust off my college French to speak with, and it was joyous!  (Sadly, Fidel works days and was asleep during this first call!).   Their joy just enveloped me and I think we were all jumping up and down at our respective ends of the conversation!  The only thing that could have increased the joy would have been if Fidel could have been in Kampala with them to experience it first hand.

Fidel’s chance to talk with them came the next day.  His overwhelming happiness was mixed with understandable apprehension.  What do you say to the parents you haven’t talked to in 10 years, and whom until very recently you feared might not still be alive?

Read about the ongoing developments in this amazing family’s life in our blog archives.  The latest update is always

First Day at Good Will Primary School

First Day at Good Will Primary School

on this blog’s “Front Page”.


8 Responses

  1. My name is Serena Stephens, I am 19 years old. I live here in Boise and was at the at the play I Have Before Me…Rwanda this evening and stayed afterwards to be inspired by Fidel’s incredible story. For the past couple years i have been involved in the Small Village Foundation here in Boise, but after being turned down as a candidate to go to Africa because I have type 1 diabetes i felt discriminated against and became very hurt and distraught. I have been looking for other organizations to help with and tonight was the answer to my prayers! Fidel touched my heart and i felt as though the same calling had come to me but in a new form. Tonight gave me hope and strength to help in any way possible. I have gone to the Agency for New Americans in hopes of assisting with any english lessons or even with babysitting for the mothers who may have to go to work during the day… anything i can do i want to do with immense compassion in my heart for these refugees. I would love to meet Fidel as well as you, his sponsors. My mother owns the JJ Shaw House Bed&Breakfast in the north end. Please feel free to stop by and or email if you can help me help you.

    • Hi Serena! How amazing! My mother stays at the JJ Shaw House when she comes to Boise! We love it there! Her name is Jeanne Cortner. I bet your Mom remembers her. As for meeting Fidel and helping Boise to Bukavu – that would be wonderful!

      I have hopes of creating an international family event of some sort this spring that brings families from many cultures together to enjoy each other through games, songs, dance, etc. I need to pull together a group to help me create the plan for it and then execute it. It will be a fundraiser for Fidel’s family and my organization. So, maybe you would like to be a part of the planning group? I’ll be putting out an email soon inviting a variety of people to get involved in that. Soon I will have other areas for people to help with too, but right now that is the main thing on my mind to get going. Let me know if you want me to include you in that.

      Thanks for your nice comments on our website. Fidel is a truly inspirational person and you will enjoy getting to know him. You might also enjoy corresponding with 1-2 of his siblings in Kampala that are close to your age. I really want to get Fidel’s 19 year old sister Judith practicing her English through emails – and getting to know American culture a bit. Maybe Fidel and I can work on getting the two of you in contact. Right now she does not have an email address, but I hope we can get her started with one soon. She just started attending a high school after a long period of no formal education. I would love her to have someone her age encouraging her through her studies. I email Fidel’s 17 year old brother Arnold all the time. He is my main contact for the family in Kampala and quite an amazing young man too. He is the one who helped find schools for all the siblings to attend and then told me what we would need to provide in order for them to attend (registration fees, school supplies, uniforms, etc.) I couldn’t help them nearly as easily if I didn’t have Arnold handling so many details.

      So, let’s count on meeting and talking more soon. I am volunteering with the Special Olympics for the next 5 days and then heading out of town a couple days later through President’s Day. Then I will be back and starting to get serious about planning a spring event. Can we get together after that? Looking forward to meeting you!

      Ruth York

  2. Ruth! What a beautiful article in the statesman today. I remember that day last fall when I saw you at Albertson’s and you had just received work that Fidel’s parents might be alive. What an amazing journey. Africa is strongly on my mind as I put my parents on a plane on Thursday for Botswana. They will be serving in the Peace Corp their for 27 months. I am hoping to visit. I look forward to all of their wonderful stories. I am inspired by your work. What a bright light you and your family are! Vashti p.s. Perhaps our next Intergenerational Choir concert can be a fundraiser for your work : ) I like to pick new things each time.

    • Many thanks Vashti! I love the thought of the Intergenerational choir supporting our work!!! That would be wonderful and I would love to talk more about that at some point. I am still interested on bringing refugees together with others in our community through song. Let’s stay in touch. I’ll make sure you are on our distribution list for upcoming news and events. Thanks again! Ruth

  3. hi, I have known Fidel for allmost 7years now. We were all in the refugee camp in Zimbabwe.
    No matter what Fidel went trough, he always was a very good person and someone that I could talk to and i am so glad that i have come to know him as a friend.
    All want i him to know is that he deserve the best and specialy his parent for he always was there for those in need of his help. I am hapy for you Fidel.
    keep up with that charming smile bro!

    • Marie – I will make sure Fidel sees your wonderful comment! You share a special history with Fidel. You have both lived through challenging times that we Americans can hardly imagine. Friends like you who really understand the realities of his life before coming the the US are so important. Thanks for being in touch through our website and I will show Fidel your message. Blessings, Ruth York

    • HI Marie,
      I am writing a book (Your Immigrant Neighbor) and I’m writing a chapter on Fidel’s story. I would like to speak with you about your story for possible inclusion in the book. Here is what the book is about:

      America continues to be the melting pot of the world. Every year, millions of immigrants pile in but anywhere from 11,555,000 (according to the US Census, 2008) to an estimated 20,000,000 (Bear Sterns) are illegal.  In 2008, 2.4 million immigrants became citizens according to the US Census Bureau. What still drives them to come here despite the dangers? Who are they? They don’t talk about how they arrived here or why. You may work with some or they might have moved in right next-door. You wave to them, smile at their children and watch them bring in the groceries. Except for their broken English, they seem like you or me. This book is a compilation of the immigrant stories you don’t hear. Some contributors are recent arrivals and some have been here many years, but the travails they have overcome are daunting, sometimes rivaling any action-adventure movie. These are true stories of your highly successful neighbors who came here to have freedom to live and create the life they dreamed of.

      This book is a compilation of the refugee stories you don’t hear. Some contributors are recent arrivals and some have been here many years, but the travails they have overcome are daunting, sometimes rivaling any action-adventure movie. These are true stories of your highly successful neighbors who came here to have freedom to live and create the life they dreamed of.

      If you are interested in speaking to me, please call me at 703-256-1409 or send me your phone number. You can email me at refugeeauthor@gmail.com
      I look forward to hearing from you.
      Karen Hamlin

  4. Hello Marie France, Thank you for keeping in touch, I know it’s been five years and so since we departed and i feel great that you are following my life through this website. Pass it along to all that i know in Canada and else where so we can stay connected despite leaving in defferent countries. I will be there early August and will endeavor to meet your family again. Lot of love to my twins and mother

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: