What does a refugee look like? Why would they want to come here? What is their story? Over the next few weeks I am going to be sharing the stories of some of our refugee families living right here in our city!
Why? I want you to know how amazing they are, and to provide them an opportunity to share their story.
The story of this special family goes back many years, but I will pick up the story in the early 1970s. The mom and dad grew up in Congo and it was not easy. Conflicts between tribes erupted and the family was not able to find safety. As a result of being from the “wrong” tribe, they were ostracized, prejudiced against and their children were not treated well. Then came the persecution against their family and for their safety they sought refuge in Burundi.
In 2000 mom and dad and their seven children crossed the border and moved to Burundi. What they hoped would be a better life simply did not happen. They were unable to work, their kids were often not allowed to attend school, they could not attain housing, they were told by many to leave the country as they were not welcome.
But there was hope! It came in the form of a church community and in the form of the UNHCR.
When they arrived it was so hard. No jobs, no school…who would help? It turned out that a pastor met the family and began to invest in them. He helped them to find temporary work, no matter how menial it was. He helped the children to find ways of education. He and the people of the church became extended family. They became community to this family of nine.
Even with this help it was a daily struggle to just survive. Then they found out about a refugee camp that they could go to, but the conditions in the camp were worse than they were experiencing. The decision was made for dad to try and find work in construction in the capital city of Bujumbura, and mom began to sell food and odds and ends to try and provide for their family. Every day they prayed to God and depended on His provision. It was incredibly hard to be separated and to struggle every day.
The family describes Bujumbura as a beautiful city. Paved roads, lots of businesses, an amazing zoo, talented people who went there for jobs, and a place where Swahili was the spoken language. It was a city of hope for many, but not if you were an unwelcomed intruder.
About two years into their time in Burundi they met some people from the UNHCR, UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISION FOR REFUGEES. The people in the UNHCR befriended the refugees and offered them extra help from time to time, as best as they could. Over time this relationship grew and nine years later they were told that an opportunity might exist for their family to come to Canada.
Canada seemed like a long way away. But there was hope! Could God provide a miracle and they could be free from persecution and daily struggling to survive. How could this possible happen? The process was started which included lots of paperwork, medical check ups, blood work, more paperwork and endless stream of things. Was it going to amount to anything or was this simply a carrot at the end of the string that they could never catch?
One day they found out the miracle would happen. They were accepted to come to Canada. It was a great day and a hard day. Great because they were going to Canada, hard because of the friends they had developed and the church family. Hard because their extended family had grown over the years to close to 200 family members. They were going to have to walk away from a place where they had community.
Nov 28,2012 the family boarded a plane and landed in Toronto. They had never flown before, what an adventure. They arrived to a cold winter day and they were not dressed for it. After one night in a hotel they caught another flight to Fredericton NB. Upon arrival they were met by a couple of other family members who had come just before them and a church that helped sponsor and some wonderful people from a local organization.
The adjustment was difficult especially with 11 family members coming at the same time. It was so important to have people they could trust and could help them get to places.
What does Fredericton represent to this family? Home, safety and peace. But at the same time it is still hard! Why?
The conflict in Burundi is still active. Just this past Friday, in Bujumbura, 87 people were executed by the police. The racial tension is still high, chaos abounds and close to 200 family members live in this city. The question is always on their hearts and minds, could today be the day some of our family are murdered?
As Albertine, the matriarch of the family said, ” my heart is broken and often I cry”. She also said, “it feels good to be here in Fredericton and I thank God for the miracle that 25 of our family are now here together.”
It is hard for them to find work here, it is still a struggle to have enough food, but even in the midst of their despair the number one priority of this amazing family is to take care of their loved ones back in Burundi. When they can, they try and send money to help out, even if it means they eat much less and have to sacrifice things in order to create a better life for the family in Burundi.
Some of the family members in the Ahuka family
If you would be interested in sending a note of encouragement or a warm welcome to this family, let us at Boaz know and we would be more than happy to pass that along!