Walking a Long Road while Serving Others
Aline joined Beautiful Day in April. She works as a Farmers Market Associate on weekends, and during the week, she’s our Community Mobilizer, connecting Providence Granola Project trainees with American volunteers for cross-cultural exchange, community orientation and friendship. We introduced you to Aline back in May with this photo from the SEEED Summit...
Here she shares her story with our director of strategic partnerships, Anne Dombrofski. We think you will agree that Aline is just the kind of person we want here, building our country.
“I remember eating dinner as a family. We were 12 people, and I was the youngest. I liked having a big family, eating dinner together with our neighbors and playing together in the neighborhood. I grew up in Bukavu, a city of about 800,000 people on the southern shore of Lake Kivu in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, near the Rwandan border. It’s very green there with the lake and mountainous--very beautiful.
“When I started elementary school I was really happy. It was really a luxury for me, as a girl, to be able to go to school. My parents loved me and knew the importance of school. My father was a nurse and my mother farmed our family’s land. I finished grade school and then high school. All my brothers and sisters finished grade school, but only some of us completed high school or went to college.
Then I married and my husband, Clement, and I started a family. I also attended the Institute for Rural Development in Bukavu, completing a bachelor’s degree in human services in 2000. My husband got his degree in sociology and pursued an advanced degree so that he could become a professor.
“When I finished college, my dream was to make a positive change in peoples’ lives. Bukavu is surrounded by villages with many poor and vulnerable people. I had the idea to create a nonprofit to promote education and economic self-sufficiency for women and girls. Together with my husband, we won the support of area doctors and lawyers as well as community elders and church leaders. We were awarded grants from international NGOs and UN agencies to work in health promotion, education and agricultural development. We educated women about their rights and taught them how to advocate for themselves.
“But despite all this, we had no legal protection. The government did not come to our aid when women and girls we worked with were threatened and attacked. In 2007, when I came to the aid of those who were attacked, I received threats against my life. Armed men came and shot at my home, tortured me, and threatened me and my family.
Escape from Congo to Thailand
After they left, we decided to flee right away with our five children to Rwanda. We later learned that the armed men had indeed returned an hour after we left. They burned our home, our organization’s vehicles, and the office. (You can read more about this on the LIRS blog.)
“So we began a long journey, hiding during the day and walking only at night, we crossed the border into Rwanda by paying bribes. We continued to Uganda and eventually Kenya. We were still not safe even in Nairobi and decided, as others were, to use all our money--and borrow more--to flee to Thailand in 2008. In Bangkok we had no legal status and were constantly under threat of arrest and prison.
We sought asylum and after one year were granted refugee status. But even then we were still at risk of arrest or deportation, and since we were not allowed to work we frequently visited local churches seeking food and clothing. We prayed every day not to be arrested. We waited three more years before being offered resettlement, in 2012. During that time, I continued to advocate for refugee rights.
Resettlement in the US
“When we found out we were being resettled in the US, we were happy because our refugee life would end and we would be free, be able to find ourselves. In 2014, we finally arrived in Providence. It was winter, but besides the cold, we were happy. It was hard for our teen children at first because we were told they were too old to be enrolled in high school. But we found a social worker to help us and they were able to get their high school degrees.
“My husband and I both started working, but we knew we wanted to pursue our dream of serving refugees so we decided to find work as interpreters while we completed certificates in social work at Rhode Island College. It was very hard to go to school while also working to support our family—now six children—but last year we were able to form our nonprofit, Women Refugee Care.
"I'm grateful for the work the PGP is doing, helping refugees gain skills, while also creating space for them to share their experiences, not being isolated at home. It's so important for refugees to be able to share their culture and also to learn about and adapt to US culture.
“My dream for the future is that all my children are able to go to college, complete university education, and be helpful to American society.”
Caroline Ellis of SuzannesMomsBlog edited this interview.