Albuquerque, New Mexico – Less than one year ago, Fuja Emedi lived with his wife and five daughters in a refugee camp in Tanzania in very dismal conditions. Today they reside in a modest apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they feel safe and free from the unrest and uncertainty that existed in their homeland.
Fuja Emedi was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Central Africa, and speaks both Swahili and French fluently. In 1996, during a time of continental and civil turmoil, a militia group killed his family while he was at school, and he was the only survivor. That same year he moved to a refugee camp in Tanzania, where he eventually met his wife, Selena (who was also from the Democratic Republic of the Congo). During 20 years at this camp, they had five daughters: Esperance, Emiliane, Nyota, Lydia, and Abigael.
Typically refugees receive help from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (also known as the UN Refugee Agency), which searches for a country to host them. Once they enter the United States, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which operates under Health and Human Services, assists them. Then there are organizations, such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Immigrant Refugee Services (funded by grants and private donations), which help them with basic needs and assimilation into society.
In the case of the Emedi family, the UNHCR assisted them to find a host country, the United States, and Lutheran Immigrant Refugee Services helped them get settled once they arrived in Albuquerque. Fuja currently works full-time, Selena has a part-time job, and all five girls attend school.
Although the family received much assistance upon arrival in New Mexico, they still had a number of challenges: learning English, living on a tight budget, developing friendships, and establishing a new life in a foreign country. Various members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reached out to them during this time of transition and assimilation.
Marilyn and Stewart Crozier, for example, who serve as LDS Los Lunas Stake Community Service Specialists, are advocates for refugees. As unpaid volunteers who are passionate about their responsibility, they created a clothing bank in their own garage to assist refugees. Although they initially obtained shoes, clothes, and toys from local LDS congregations, they now often visit yard sales. Stewart Crozier explained, “I go to yard sales and ask the sellers to donate whatever doesn’t sell to our clothing bank. I pick up everything myself, and this has been very successful. We have had a full stock of items.” He and his wife collect clothing with the needs of specific family members in mind, according to their size, gender, and stylistic preferences, and then deliver them to the families. The Emedi family and other refugees have been grateful recipients of their efforts.
The Croziers care not only about clothing but also the general needs of the refugees. As Marilyn Crozier expressed, “Refugees find it difficult to assimilate in our society. They tend to interact with each other, not with those outside their group. They often speak their own language and do not have a strong motivation to speak English.” The Croziers want people to become more aware of the immigrants’ needs, to reach out to them, befriend them, and help them become better assimilated into American society. This husband and wife team posts ways that local residents can be of service on the website “Just Serve,” and they mentioned that it took them many months to develop a relationship of trust with the refugees themselves.
Another LDS Church member, Susan Reese, became friends with the Emedi family when they became members of the Church. She visited their apartment on numerous occasions, spoke to them in English, and encouraged them in their new life in Albuquerque. She was impressed with their love of singing. “They would sing in Swahili,” she explained, “and we [she and other LDS Church members] would try to sing in Swahili too, but we didn’t do very well.” Reese said that the family did not have much in terms of material possessions, but they were happy and grateful for everything they had. She added, “They have taught me so much. They have been a genuine blessing in my life.”
Then when the Emedi family moved to a different apartment in Albuquerque, various members of an LDS congregation, the Canyon Heights Ward, came to help. They appeared on the appropriate day and time with their own vans, trucks, and cars to help move furniture, clothes, kitchen wares, food, and miscellaneous items. Many helping hands made the work go quickly and effectively. Some people assisted with cleaning, vacuuming, and leaving the former apartment in respectable condition. The family was very appreciative of this effort, and now they are settled in their new apartment with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Reese explained that members of the Canyon Heights Ward have helped the Emedi family in many other ways as well. She said, “They provided rides, babysitting, furniture, Christmas, kitchen supplies, bedding, clothing, and shoes. They helped them find jobs and provided English translation for them at Church meetings.” The members attempted to help the Emedi family in any way they could and continue to do so.
Although the Emedis have received care and assistance, the process of assimilation still has its challenges. In my interview with Fuja Emedi, which I conducted in both French and English, I asked him what he missed about his home in Africa. He replied that in terms of food, he missed the wide variety of fruit, maize cooked in a pot, fish, legumes, and a certain type of cabbage. Then I questioned, “What has been difficult for you here in Albuquerque?” and was surprised by his immediate answer: “Les saisons! The seasons!” It has been hard for the family to adjust to the weather, which at times seems very cold or very hot to them. He also mentioned that chile makes his eyes water, an observation made not only by refugees.
All in all, the Emedi family is appreciative of the opportunity they have to make a new beginning in a safe environment, far away from the insecure, corrupt, and dangerous land they once called home. They look forward to establishing their lives here in Albuquerque, in the United States, among new friends and acquaintances, where they now have renewed “hope for life.”