Welcoming Congolese Refugees

By Emily Laney, Atlanta Program Manager for Refugee Services Survivor.

If only given one word to describe our Congolese clients, that’s the one I’d use. You may have heard the news reports coming out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in recent months. Thousands of men, women and children have been victimized as a result of a complicated multi-level conflict that has roots in politics, economics, and overarching corruption. To escape the dangerous situation in many parts of the DRC is truly an act of survival.

We’ve been hearing reports that we will continue to see an increase in Congolese arrivals this year and next. As with any refugee population, it’s important for us to understand the overall needs and situation of this population. Many of our Congolese refugees are single mothers with several children. They are certainly survivors, but they come to the United States with unique needs. Many have chronic medical issues that they will be dealing with for the rest of their lives. Many women are survivors of rape. Others became widows after their husbands were killed in the violent conflict that plagues the DRC. Since many young girls in the developing world face barriers to regular school attendance, their level of education is oftentimes low.

We are anticipating a high level of trauma amongst our Congolese clients. Many of them have witnessed things that you and I can’t even fathom, resulting in deep emotional scars that take a long time to heal. And yet, as I said at the beginning of this post, they are survivors. They work hard to make a new life for themselves and their family. They overcome obstacles to reach self-sufficiency in the United States. We are optimistic that these amazing women will thrive after they arrive here, but we need your help!

One of the biggest needs for these mothers is friendship. Have you moved to a new city at some point in your life? If so, you probably didn’t know many people in your new town and you craved friendship. It can be lonely to relocate to a new place within your own country, so imagine how it must feel for a newly arrived refugee, especially one who has gone through so much in her life. Our Congolese moms will have to learn how to navigate U.S. school, workplace, transportation and medical systems. LSG case managers help to orient them to the customs of the United States, but these women will need additional support. They may need someone to show them how to grocery shop on a budget. They may need help figuring out complicated school forms. Some of them may simply need a friend to help them practice their English language skills. We may have some moms who arrive pregnant and will need a friend to help them navigate all of the pre-natal decisions they’ll have to make. Most of our moms will have major financial needs, so they may need your financial support. Or, maybe they’ll need you to help them before they even arrive. They’ll have apartments that will need to be furnished, and welcome baskets of food to help them while their applications for public assistance are pending. Each of our moms will be unique, but they all will have one thing in common:

They’ll need friends. They’ll need you.

If you are interested in being a ‘first friend’ to one of our Congolese Mothers, please contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org.