Welcoming Noela and her family

Mission | September 7, 2016

The phone call came last week, on Tuesday afternoon. Beth Johnson, volunteer coordinator from World Relief-Moline, was on the line. “A family of seven, a single mom with six kids, will be arriving in the United States soon. We’d like to partner them with St. Paul. Are you willing?”

After months of planning and dreaming, the answer was a joyful “yes!” Noela Zamukunda and her six children are originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. They are set to arrive the week of Sept. 18, from a refugee camp in Kyaka, Uganda.

The DRC has experienced some of the worst human rights abuse and violence in recent years. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous places on earth for women and girls.

Noela does not speak English, but her two oldest daughters know some. They will live in a duplex in the Broadway neighborhood of Rock Island, not far from the Centennial Bridge.

Charlese is 16. Chantal is 14. Deborah is 9. Jerome is 7. Rebecca is 5. Rehema is 2. Noela is 34 and is a farmer. She is married, but it does not say in World Relief’s records where her husband is. The family is Christian. Charlese and Chantal speak some English; their native languages are Swahili and Kinyarwanda. The three oldest have had some schooling in recent years. Four of the kids have health concerns.

A team from St. Paul, with the furnishings and housewares donated by St. Paul people, will set up their duplex in the Broadway neighborhood of Rock Island this weekend. In addition to St. Paul staff, Angie Vaaler and Mollie Hart are heading up the volunteer coordination effort.

In the DRC, military conflict for the past 15 years has prompted people to leave, conflict prompted by Rwandan civil violence and genocide in the 1990s. One of the most significant reasons for the fighting is for control of the DRC’s natural resources, which include rich farmland, precious jewels, and metals.

More than 2.4 million people from the DRC alone have been displaced because of killings, kidnappings, mass rape, and torture. It can be assumed, World Relief leaders say, that refugees from the Congo have experienced or witnessed violence.

At Kyaka, the refugee resettlement where the Zamukunda family lives, the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees works with the government of Uganda and a variety of other organizations to provide support to the 25,000 people who live there. Most of them are from the DRC.

Over the next five years, the U.S. expects tens of thousands of refugees from the DRC, many of which may be resettled in the Quad Cities.

Over the next several weeks, St. Paul people will be grocery shopping at African grocery stores to stock their shelves before they arrive, driving the family to an assortment of appointments (doctors, social security, school registration), helping them learn the bus system, and getting to know our new neighbors.

“Pray for traveling mercies,” said Amy Rowell, the director of World Relief-Moline. “I’m sure she’s so excited to come, especially for the opportunities for her kids,” she said of Noela.

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