A long way from home

by Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Newspaper – October 1, 2017

“Today, we are a united family again,” said Lusinga, who after waiting for two years, was joyfully reunited with his two eldest daughters. Once again, he held them close thanks to Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program.

Lusinga spent 15 years in refugee camps in Zambia after fleeing his war-torn homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a child, Lusinga never imagined that the political climate in his country would force him to leave his birthplace. The Second Congo War left his family no choice. In 1999, when he was 19, Lusinga, his parents and siblings made the difficult decision to make the six-month journey from Momba to Zambia on foot. That would be the first of many agonizing choices—choices that would change his life forever.

Lusinga and his family faced more challenges when they arrived at a refugee camp in Zambia.  “It was difficult,” said Lusinga. “They gave us tents and some land to live.”  Amidst the struggles of everyday life, Lusinga met Florence and married her. They soon celebrated the birth of two children, Mulumbia and Musange, sadly Florence died from childbirth complications. It was 2008 and now single, Zambian law would not permit Lusinga to keep his children because he had no one to care for them. His mother-in-law took the girls back to Congo. He would lose touch with them for the next seven years.

Lusinga married Mosonda and had two more daughters, Helena Kyama and Katempa while living in another camp. Then, one day in August of 2014, a businessman he had known for some time was traveling and recognized Lusinga’s daughters. They were no longer in Congo, but in Zambia. Lusinga immediately took the two-day bus ride to Mununga to reunite his family. Once again, his joy was short-lived when he realized adding the girls to his resettlement application might delay the process another five or more years. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees) advised him to resettle in the United States and then apply for resettlement for his older daughters. Heartbroken, he left with his wife and two youngest children to the United States in November of 2015, only three months after finding his long-lost children.

Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement caseworker Rand Abduhadi met them at the airport. Together with Nicole DeCarufel, they assisted Lusinga in the application process for the girls’ immigration, already begun by the USCCB Office of Resettlement.

Catholic Charities spent the next six months helping Lusinga and his wife find jobs, learn the language and helping the girls become familiar with American customs. “They did not leave me,” said Lusinga. “They helped me the whole time.”

Despite Lusinga’s paltry wage, he managed to save the $1,000 needed to pay for the application and fees that would ultimately make his family whole again. The wait was agonizing. “You can’t know how it’s been inside me,” said Lusinga. “When they told me they were coming, I felt dizziness. But yes, the time has come. Thank God we’re here. Praise God. His name be glorified.”

Today the future looks bright for Lusinga and his family. The girls will receive a medical exam and shots to prepare them to go to school. Catholic Charities will provide a volunteer to help them with enculturation for the next 30-90 days. However, volunteers often continue working with the families long after. The children will also participate in the ESOL (English as a second language) program through their public school system to help them learn the language of their new home.

On September 27, in an effort to break down barriers of fear and suspicion surrounding refugees and immigrants, Pope Francis launched “Share the Journey”, a two-year worldwide campaign calling on all Catholics and the faithful to “build bridges of understanding and hospitality.” These are some of Catholic Charities of Central Florida’s stories about how they “Share the Journey.”

How can I help? Register as a volunteer at cflcc.org and/or subscribe to Catholic Charities Facebook group “Welcoming the Stranger in Orlando” were you will be informed of the needs and volunteer options.