Hear My Story: Bienvenu
Stories of tragedy, courage, and hope reborn: these are the voices of the refugees served by Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. Learn more about the refugee experience from those who have lived it first hand.
What is your name?
Can you tell us about where you’re from?
I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Where were you born?
I wasn’t born in the Congo. My parents were born in the Congo, but I was born in Rwanda at a camp for refugees.
Where were you living before you came to the United States?
What was life like before coming to the US?
It was hard, even sad. They gave us $8 a month for each person to buy food, clothes, everything.
Did you come to the US with family?
We have five here – one brother, two nephews, and my mom.
How old were you when you came to the US?
22 years old. I’ve been here for about two years.
What was your first impression of Columbia?
Because everything was new for me, I was confused. My first time in America, I was thinking, “America doesn’t’ look like that.” Everything we saw before, like the rich people, came from America. I was thinking, “That’s what America’s like.” But no, that’s wrong. I was thinking wrong.
What surprised you most about life here?
How people dress in summer with short sleeves. That was my first surprise. In Africa, we don’t do that. Over there, we can’t spend our few dollars on just a shirt. For example, here in America, with eight dollars you can’t buy anything. You can’t pay for your phone. Over there, it’s a sad life. We have eight dollars, and we use it to buy food, we buy clothes, and good shoes. It’s hard.
Another surprise was snow. The first time, it was new, but then it was too cold. Even here, it surprises me how cold it is. When you go outside, you can feel it on your ears.
What was the hardest thing to learn about life here?
The hardest thing to learn is to speak English. The first is to speak English, the second is to get a ride.
When I came, I came with my nephew. He would always try to listen. For me, I would try to listen, but to reply and respond, oh my God, I was thinking can I study or not? I came in 2018, I had a diploma from 2016 from the UN in Rwanda, but it was worth nothing. Even though we’re studying English, when I came over here, I can’t talk with anyone, so it was hard.
What do you think of Columbia now?
A few families came from Rwanda and we speak the same language, so that’s good because when I need some help, I can talk with them. Over here, there are some people who can help you, like RIS.
What is your favorite thing about Columbia or the US?
Columbia doesn’t have a lot of crazy people, so that’s what I like about Columbia. It’s not like New York, California.
How do you feel about the community here?
From the families that speak the same language, I fit in with them because we have to communicate for everything, like we have the same culture.
For those who speak a different language, I can communicate with them, but a lot of times I communicate with them, I wonder how can I learn and practice English.
I can communicate with everybody, but when I meet the new guys who speak a different language, I can’t talk with them before I see how they act, what they like. When I learn their culture, I can talk with them.
How has Catholic Charities helped during your transition to life in the US?
They helped us with everything. When we came here in America, we came with nothing, and they gave us help. The living room, the bedroom, they gave us some things we can use.
They help us to get a job and apply for permanent residency after one year here . That’s the first thing they helped us with. When we first came here, we didn’t know the area, or even the direction. For me, the first time, I was with my big brother. We came to the bus station and I didn’t know where the bus station to go back was. It’s taken me almost two years to know which bus station to take. They help us to know the direction. For me, on my first time, there was someone who was here, RIS gave me the tickets for the bus. For my first time, I was thinking, “Where is my home?” because I didn’t know the direction. In Africa, the bus comes one way and goes back the same way. When I came here, the bus only goes one way.
What is your job now?
Right now, I’m at EBC which is also a factory.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Buying a car. In my life, I was thinking, how will I ever buy my own car? The UN, they gave us $8 a month, and I thought, “How can I ever buy a car?” When I got here, I worked very hard and bought a used car and it was a great accomplishment for me.
What is your dream for the future?
My dream for the future is to be a rich man. I want my life to be easy. When I’m a rich man, I can take trips somewhere with my family, and just enjoy my life. Half of my life was sad, and right now I want to enjoy my life. I want to be a rich man, but it’s not now. I have to work hard.
What is your favorite thing about your home country?
It’s my culture. I’m proud of my culture.
What do you miss the most from your home country?
There’s a lot. I miss my friends. A lot of friends are still there. I miss them. When we were together, we enjoyed life with the few ability we had. I also miss my family who is still there.
Are there any family or cultural traditions you keep?
A lot of things I did over there, I don’t do, because you know, when you go somewhere new, you have to study the life there. I wanted to learn the culture here, because when I talk about my culture, it’s hard for other people because they don’t know, but I have to share with them my culture. When they know my culture, maybe they can like it. Some of them they can, some of them they can’t. For me, I need to know both to make conversation
What does being American mean to you?
To be an American, it’s good for me in my life. All my life, I was a refugee. Over here, if they give me permanent residency, it’ll be good for me. Right now I hope I will gain permanent residency, because when we were in Rwanda, I was born in Rwanda, but I didn’t have a status there because my mom and dad were from Congo. I only had a refugee status. Over here in America, I can be a permanent resident.
What does being a refugee mean to you?
It’s my life. To me, being a refugee means you go outside of your own land to save your life because of war. A lot of people, they can go outside of their country, and because they have a high ability, they can get a good life. Being a refugee for me, it’s a tough life. In my refugee life, it’s a sad life.
What does World Refugee Day mean to you?
It reminds me of my life. It’s good, because it reminds me of everything in my past. Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes it’s not good for me because it reminds me of how sad it was for me. But other times I’m proud to be a refugee because it’s not my choice. Everyone right here in the world could be a refugee because we don’t know the future. It makes me proud to be a refugee.
Do you feel like there are misconceptions about being a refugee?
When you start a new life, before you can accept that new life, you’ll think, “I’m going to be a refugee. I don’t have a way I can work.”
In Africa, we would study. When we finished high school, because we have a refugee status, they won’t give you a job in the country. They can’t give refugees a job. To be a refugee, it’s not my choice. To be a refugee, you lose your home and your future.
Do you feel like there are misconceptions about your country?
Why we are refugees is a misunderstanding. I was born as a refugee, then I came over here to America. Right now we are in 2020, they’re still thinking how can we get back our country? Over there, they’re losing hope over there on how they can get the good ability for themselves. Everything they get, the UNHCR gives to them. A lot of people, they’re working in the refugee camp, they get paid $8 a month. It’s not enough to be comfortable, because it’s your life and you’re running, and you don’t know when you’ll be okay.
For me, I was thinking, how will I get a good life? Back there, it was a bad life. To get the shoes, it was hard for me. We had four kids, and my mom would say, “I have to buy four shoes, how will I buy four pants on just $8 for the kids I have?”
What do you want the community to know about your country or culture?
First of all, learn what made me a refugee. It’s not my choice; it was the wars over there that made me a refugee. That’s the first thing people can learn. They can know the cause of the war.
What do you want the community to know about refugees?
They have to know when you’re a refugee, first you change your life. When you change your life, everything is changing. You can’t have everything you had before. If you’re a refugee in another country, it’s not your country. You can’t be like before.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’m thinking I will write a book on my life because it was hard. I will try to write a book. In my younger life, I was new, I couldn’t know everything, but when I grew up I saw everything, I can explain the life of a refugee.