NEWTOWN, Conn. — A father and mother who fled the war-torn Congo over 16 years ago, escaping to a refugee camp in Tanzania, are now happily settled in Danbury with their four children, partially thanks to the work of the newly formed Newtown Interfaith Partnership for Refugee Resettlement (IPRR).
They arrived in the November with the help of congregants from IPRR's diverse group of faith communities in Newtown and others. IPRR worked with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), a refugee resettlement organization based in New Haven, to co-sponsor the family.
"They are a resourceful, resilient family that has so much to add to our greater Danbury community. It has been a wonderful experience working with them thus far," IPRR chair Rick Chamiec-Case said.
Since the arrival of the refugee family, local IPRR volunteers have helped them find an apartment, take language classes, and get needed healthcare. Volunteers also helped the father find a job in Brookfield. They also helped to set up the children in area schools. The kids — three girls, ages 6, 10 and 13 and a boy, 15 — were all born in the Tanzanian refugee camp.
Through an interpreter, the father, who declined to give his name, answered Daily Voice's questions. He said the family is "enjoying a good life. We feel safe here and are pleased to be out of the refugee camp."
The father added, "We are adjusting well. We are already able to find our way in town without outside guidance. Naturally, we miss our friends and family [in Tanzania], but are making new special friends here."
His advice to other refugees is, "Coming here is individualized for each refugee. For me, I feel I must apply myself to my best abilities and continually improve."
The mission of the IPRR to help settle a refugee family has brought the community together, volunteers said.
"The IPRR has a varied group of founding and supporting religious organization members, as well as concerned nonaffiliated Newtown residents. Given that we have such a small town, the diversity of individuals is wonderful," IPRR member Sharon L. Cohen said.
A Sandy Hook resident, who declined to give her name, has been involved with IPRR from the start. She attended training with other volunteers last March and volunteered to assemble necessities for the family's apartment and set it up for their arrival. In addition, she is on the IPRR Health Committee, which ensures that the entire family gets necessary medical care.
After hearing about the Danbury Salvation Army's youth services program, she suggested the children check it out. The son just joined the teen program and enjoys playing soccer, at which he excels, and basketball. The girls are enjoying activities with other children their age, including, jump rope and softball for the first time.
"I've been interested in the refugee cause for some time," she said. "My mother was fortunate enough to immigrate to the United States. A group of us at the Newtown Congregational Church met with other concerned congregants from the Newtown Trinity Episcopal Church to see what we could do for the refugees coming to the U.S."
Since then, several other religious organizations have joined IPRR. "With such an important issue as refugee resettlement, it does take a village! I feel that it is America's obligation to do as much as we can for these refugees, and I gain a great deal of personal satisfaction from my involvement," she added.
The refugee issue has been a hot-button topic since President Donald Trump issued his now-suspended executive order banning travel to the U.S. by people from seven Muslim-majority nations and slashing the number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. this year. The order did not affect Congo or Tanzania.
"IPRR is extremely grateful that refugee families, like the one we are currently serving, should not be affected by [the] Executive Order regarding refugees, since they are already in this country and their resettlement process is already underway," Chamiec-Case said.
"We hope that groups like IPRR will be able to support and benefit from working with additional vulnerable families from around the world just as soon as possible."
Asked what he thought of the president's ban on refugees, the father said, Trump "is here today because the American people voted for him as president. I believe that leaders are chosen by the authority of God. He is here for a reason."