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A NEW WORLD, A NEW LIFE

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From Ugandan camp to Lowell, a Congolese family starts again

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HARDSHIP, AND HOPE: Sendegeya Bayavuge joins his family, newly arrived from Africa, on the porch of their apartment in Lowell. With him, from left, are Dusenge Tuyishime, 14, Maria Uwimana, 16, Nyirakabanza Muhawenimana, 20, Sarah Nyiramana Bayavuge, 6, their mother, Vanisi Uzamukunda, 43, and Lea Nyiramahoro, 11. See a slide show at lowellsun.com. (SUN / JOHN LOVE)

LOWELL -- The Congolese family's home in Lowell is sparsely decorated, a sign of their recent arrival.

There's no art on the walls, no photos of smiling faces, no toys cluttering the floors. However, there is furniture and food and the basic necessities for a fresh start in the United States.

The family of seven -- father Sendegeya Bayavuge, 52, mother Vanisi Uzamukunda, 43, and five children ages 6-20 -- arrived in early February with help from a resettlement agency. The family had spent the past two decades at a Ugandan refugee camp after fleeing violent unrest in their native Democratic Republic of Congo, a country located in Central Africa.

"I see America as good and I can live in America," said Sendegeya through an

interpreter on a recent Monday afternoon, his hands clasped together as he sat in the corner of the living room. "I see here they have security. The way I was (living in Uganda), I was always in fear ... with security, I find everything good."

Maria Uwimana, 16, sat on a carpet beside her father in the family's second-floor apartment. Three of her siblings, sisters Nyirakabanza Muhawenimana, 20, and Lea Nyiramahoro, 11, and brother Dusenge Tuyishime, 14, sat across the room on a worn, cream-colored couch. The family's "princess," 6-year-old Sarah Nyiramana Bayavuge, nestled onto her mother's lap.

The family was spared in late January from President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, which in part suspended the refugee admissions program for 120 days. Vanisi recalled hearing about the order as she waited with her family in a hotel for their flight to the United States.

"He said he don't want the guests. We lost the hope to come," Vanisi said through the interpreter. "After the situation changed and we came here, we were happy.

"I'm really grateful that they were not immediately impacted by the proposed suspension of the resettlement program," said Cheryl Hamilton, director of the Lowell site of the International Institute of New England, the agency assigned to resettle the family in partnership with the State Department.

A refugee is someone who has fled from his or her country and cannot return due to fears of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular group and, according to the State Department. Since 1975 the U.S. has welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world. The city of Lowell has received 508 Iraqis, 220 Somalis, 31 Syrians, and 7 Sudanese during the 10-year period from 2007 through January 2017, according to federal data analyzed by the Associated Press.

Hamilton said about half of her staff's cases are refugees from the Congo since the U.S. government committed to accepting 25,000 of them across the country. According to 2009-2013 data on Massachusetts refugee arrivals from the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, 25 percent of 11,155 refugees admitted in the state hailed from the Congo.

Journey to a new life

It took over 24 hours for Sendegeya, Vanisi and their family to arrive in Lowell. They first stopped in Manchester, N.H. before being brought by resettlement workers to the light yellow multi-family house they now call home.

"In the beginning, we had a fear to fly because it was our first time to go on the airplane," Sendegeya said.

daughters, Maria Uwimana, 16. (SUN / JOHN LOVE)

"After that, we realized we are with other people."

He and Vanisi are bracing for the long road ahead. The children are still waiting to be enrolled in school, and the family as a whole is still struggling with having left their eldest child behind in Uganda. They don't have immediate family here and don't speak English. The language barrier, both parents admit, is a big obstacle they hope to overcome so they can have a better chance at finding jobs to support their family. Back in Uganda, Sendegeya worked as a farmer.

"I think that anybody moving into a new community, you're having to rebuild your entire social network and, with that, obviously being less familiar with employment opportunities or navigating transportation," Hamilton said. "Essentially, you are rebuilding every area of your life."

The United States allocates $925 per individual for the first three months in the country, according to Hamilton. Like with other refugee families the International Institute of New England helps resettle, Sendegeya and Vanisi's family will have access to integration services for the first year and be eligible to come back to the organization for employment services for up to a year and benefit from citizenship services for five years. Hamilton said her staff also offers other programs, such as after-school homework help.

"Obviously, the federal financial assistance is lean and it's remarkable the resiliency and the ability of families to navigate and overcome these challenges," Hamilton said.

Vanisi said her greatest fear involves protecting her children. Recently, while the children played outside, the mother said a neighbor warned them to be quiet and threatened to call the police.

"We saw our neighbor just coming to give us a warning without saying 'Good morning' or 'Welcome,'" Vanisi recalled. "It was just a warning -- 'Kids, shut up!'"

The incident was traumatic for Vanisi, who said her family now spends most of their time inside their home.

"In Uganda, it's different because in Uganda you can play and dance," she said. "Not that kind of warning."

There have been tiny victories through the murkiness. The family found a market with familiar foods and established a friendship with fellow Jehovah's Witnesses in nearby Chelmsford. Twice a week, members of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses pick up the family for meetings.

The four daughters later walked up a flight of stairs to proudly show off their rooms -- Nyirakabanza and Maria in one, and Lea and Sarah in the other. Both rooms are bare except for neatly made twin-sized beds. In Lea and Sarah's closet, there are clothes and several pairs of shoes. The family's only son, Dusenge, has his own room. He remained quiet for the duration of the family's interview and smiled shyly when asked about his thoughts on his new home.

"Right now, what I like and what I have desired, I have found it," he said through the interpreter, his hands fiddling with a pale pink throw. "Everything is OK for me."

Ask the eldest, Nyirakabanza and Maria, what they dream of becoming someday and their eyes light up. Both said they hope to become nurses to help others.

"I'm happy here, but not yet," Nyirakabanza said, later clarifying that she is still sorting out her feelings about the family's new life in America. "I will be happy and confirm the happiness when I see my achievement. My goal is to go to school to continue my education -- to become someone self-sufficient. If I achieve that, I will be very very happy."
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SWEET HOME: Sarah Nyiramana Bayavuge, 6, and her sister Lea Nyiramahoro, 11, in their new bedroom. The family was spared in late January from President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration. (SUN / JOHN LOVE)

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      Lewis shook hands with Sendegeya Bayavuge, the family’s 52-year-old father, who gradually began to relax as the day wore on. At the airport, sitting with his children after the grueling trip, he appeared exhausted and apprehensive.
      But in the apartment, as each new wonder was demonstrated, the creases in Sendegeya’s face began to soften.
      “There will be safety here. There will be a difference,” said Sendegeya, who had been a farmer in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
      Some worries remain, however: One daughter still lives in a Ugandan camp.
      “Life was very bad in the camp; there were many problems,” including food shortages, Sendegeya said. “We pray to God to help those who are still in the camps to come here.”
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      She even practiced putting a trash bag in place.
      “It’s a new life,” she said, breaking into a broad, beaming smile. “I feel happy to be in America.”


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      By Guest Nicole
      Dorking residents inspired to life-changing response to migration crisis

      Kristin and Peter Nevins came to Dorking from the US and piled their four children into two bedrooms so they could begin hosting refugees © Anna Gordon
      “If they ask, say you’re my nephew,” Constance Nash advised the young Syrian man staying with her, in case he encountered an unfriendly neighbour.
      Ms Nash has a lot of foreign guests this year at her home in Dorking, a leafy town in the Surrey hills about an hour’s train ride south of London.
      First came the Eritrean woman who was 28 weeks pregnant and then the wounded Syrian soldier and his Congolese friend, who had been sleeping rough.
      Then there were the Syrian and Sudanese teenagers. “They said they came on the train,” Ms Nash said. “Not in the train, on the train.”
      There was George from Ghana and Jean from the Congo and the Zimbabwean and Sudanese, and Ahmad, a soft-spoken pharmacist from Aleppo who stayed for five months.
      Ms Nash refers to them not as refugees but “guests”. She and a motley group of nearby residents have been hosting them during the past year to make their modest response to the global migration crisis and fill the sizeable gaps left by the British government.

      Constance Nash: 'It’s not charity. At all. It’s human solidarity.' © Anna Gordon
      “It’s not charity. At all. It’s human solidarity,” said Ms Nash, who — like her guests — is a foreigner who never expected to land in Dorking. A frenetic Parisian, she moved to the town 17 years ago after marrying an Englishman and then ended up staying after the marriage ended.
      She hates the idea of spinning her experience into a feel-good story, insisting: “We don’t do cute in Dorking.”
      “Actually, we do,” corrected her friend Carmel O’Shea, who was seated in Ms Nash’s kitchen-cum-salon on a recent afternoon. Also passing through were Syrian and Congolese refugees, a gaggle of schoolchildren and neighbours, a tattooed Anglican curate and his wife, a pair of cats and an unusually active turtle.
      Britain has pledged to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees. The government selects families from UN camps and meticulously screens them before offering asylum, housing, English lessons and a living allowance.
      But that ignores many others — from Syria and elsewhere — who arrive in the UK on their own. Some come with fake passports, or hidden in the back of trucks using the Channel tunnel.
      In theory, these people can claim asylum and, if necessary, receive government lodging. But in practice, many become trapped in a suspicious, slow-moving bureaucracy. In the interim, they may end up sleeping on church floors, in hospital emergency rooms or even on London’s night buses, as Jean sometimes did.

      The Nevins talk to Constance Nash in her kitchen. All three are part of the Dorking Group of local hosts © Anna Gordon
      “If it’s not deliberate then it’s the least competent government ever,” said Peter Nevins, a curate at the local Anglican church.
      He and his wife, Kristin — both from the US Midwest — moved to Dorking in August and piled their four children into two bedrooms so they could begin hosting. First came a Nigerian man, who stayed for a few days, and then a Syrian jeweller and baker, who had become friends in Calais’ infamous “jungle” migrant camp, and stayed for a few weeks.
      “The rooms should be filled, as far as I’m concerned,” Kristin shrugged.
      The Dorking Group, as the 10 local hosts informally call themselves, take referrals from an Epsom-based charity known as Refugees At Home, which has its own web page and Facebook group. The guests are first screened by the Red Cross and Refugee Council. Refugees At Home visits the hosts to check them, too.
      “Everyone just acts as if it’s going to be a friend’s friend [staying],”said Ms Nash, who first contacted Refugees At Home in August last year after reading about Icelanders pledging to house 11,000 refugees. “I got all agitated and said: ‘Let’s do it in England.’”
      Still, she recalled fretting after being briefed on her first arrival. “What if we don’t like her? She has nightmares. What if she sleepwalks?” Her son, Raph, 15, also confessed he was “a bit worried” about sharing the house with a stranger.
      But those fears melted. “When it clicks, it feels like the most normal thing you’ve ever done,” Ms Nash said. So much so that Raph’s school friend went home one day and asked his mother, Ms O’Shea, why they were not hosting any refugees.
      “I was hugely apprehensive. I wouldn’t even do French exchange with my kids,” Ms O’Shea said.

      Ahmad, a Syrian pharmacist, spent 10 months in the Calais 'jungle' before making it to the UK © Anna Gordon
      But she ended up opening her home to Mohammad, a 22-year-old Iranian builder — and sobbing when he left five months later. “I think we thought we were offering someone a room. It’s much more than that,” she said.
      Besides the humanity of it, hosting has wider benefits, the Dorking Group argues. Chief among them is that it speeds refugees’ integration, immersing them in the culture and language and making it easier for them to build their own lives if they win asylum.
      “It’s things like: why are the English always talking about the weather?” said David Preedy, a retired project manager. “It’s the kind of thing you don’t get going through the faceless, official scheme.”
      For Ahmad, the Syrian pharmacist, Ms Nash’s home was a refuge after a harrowing journey. He fled Aleppo in 2013 as the war intensified, paying a smuggler €1,050 to take him from Turkey to Greece. His nose was broken by bandits in Macedonia, where he was jailed. He also spent 10 months in the Calais “jungle” before making it to Britain.

      David Preedy, a retired project manager, has just had his first refugee to stay
      “When I stay in Dorking, I feel I am among my family,” he said in halting English.
      His asylum request was finally approved last week. But he appeared more focused on the news back home, repeatedly returning to a smartphone with images of bloodied corpses and rubble.
      Dorking has not been universally welcoming. When Ms Nash posted leaflets promoting her work around town they were torn down.
      Even the best-intentioned hosts admit they can become worn out. The Iranian family of Jehovah’s Witnesses that Mr Preedy and his wife took in ended up staying for nearly nine months.
      In addition to expenses for bus and train fares and food, Mr Preedy became drawn into the bureaucratic tangle of jobcentres, immigration law and the challenges of opening a bank account. “We saw them through the whole asylum process, which is mind-blowingly depressing,” he said. Still, he came away uplifted. “It’s given me a completely different perspective on people,” he said.
      Ms Nash also sounded transformed. “You really do connect and then it rips you apart when they leave,” she said. “But you know? It’s good sorrow, good sadness.”
      Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

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    • By The Librarian
      Nigeria, Africa. Greetings. 

    • By The Librarian
      meeting for field service in Ghana Africameeting for field service in Ghana Africa
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Robert Fleming comes from a long line of Sault Jehovah's Witnesses

      Robert Fleming travels the deserts, jungles, savannahs, and waters of West Africa hoping people will see what he sees in the Bible.
      Fleming is a Sault born-and-raised fourth generation Jehovah’s Witness who left the area when he was 24 and came back for the first time in 20 years last week to visit family and attend a regional annual conference of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      In an interview with SooToday Fleming talked a bit about his family’s history and about his life preaching in West Africa.
      Fleming’s great grandfather John Fleming came from Scotland to the Sault in the early 1900s and when the Spanish flu hit the area he got a job at the cemetery on Fourth Line.
      One day he was literally standing body-deep in a grave he’d just dug out when a Jehovah’s Witness approached him and commented, “you know, that’s hell you’re standing in."
      John Fleming was puzzled and, after through conversation learned about how Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in an afterlife in the same way other Christians might imagine it and other interpretations the group has of the Bible. 
      This meeting led to a full-blown conversion and three generations later John Fleming’s descendants are still practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      “My earliest memories are me going door to door as a kingdom preacher,” said Robert Fleming who after his father, grandfather, and great grandfather is continuing the tradition.
      “Third Line, Carpin Beach Road, Leighs Bay Road. I don’t know if the old-timers are still there or if I’d even remember them. I was very young,” said Robert Fleming.
      Fleming left the Sault in 1985 to preach in Quebec and in 1995 he went to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Missionary School in Paterson, NY.
      After five months of training there Fleming flew to West Africa where for the last 20 years he’s been preaching for Jehovah out of Douala, Cameroon, which at 3 million people is the country’s largest city.
      “I was nervous to go, boy oh boy. I was there one week and I was checking out the price of airplane tickets to go back. Is that too honest?”
      Fleming said that Cameroon is not only immensely diverse geographically — it's often called “Africa in miniature” — but also culturally as the country has roughly 200 tribes and dialects and a range of religions that include indigenous beliefs and assorted versions of Christianity and Islam.
      “There’s a hundred times more religions than Canada. Every neighbourhood has its own church because they want to worship God how they think God should be worshipped,” he said.
      Fleming said Cameroonians are incredibly religious people and that the Christians among them will often carry a Bible around on their phones and regularly consult it.
      Fleming said the more traditional African religions that he’s encountered don’t talk about “God” or “gods” so much as they talk about “forces of nature” but that these forces seem to be roughly equivalent to the idea of “gods”.
      Most Africans, regardless of their professed religion he said, continue to follow a tradition of ancestry worship, where they believe that their dead relatives are still influencing the world and helping or harming their living descendants based on how pleased they feel.
      “They’ll put out salt or palm oil, things like that, to appease, say, their dead grandfather and if something bad happens in the family they might say it’s their grandfather that has done it to them. The Bamelike Tribe in the west of Cameroon, after the grandfather has been dead for a year, will actually dig up the skull and they’ll have a small alter in the home and when they have to make big decisions they’ll consulate with him.”
      In his time there, Fleming has travelled by canoe and bush-bike to get to remote tribes in the jungle, like a tribe of pygmies living in grass huts, or to secluded islands off the coast of the continent, but he never goes more than a days journey.
      Fleming said Jehovah’s Witnesses have been in Cameroon since the late 1930s and even though they were banned from 1970 until 1993, largely for not participating in local government because it is against their faith, even tribes like the pygmies are quite familiar with his group when they arrive.
      As a preacher, Fleming said he follows the standard Jehovah’s witness preaching technique of basically asking people what they think about a topic, then introducing what the Bible teaches about that topic, and then hopefully getting a person out to a bible study group where they can learn more and potentially feel compelled to join the faith.
      But unlike other Christian religions, he said, to be a Jehovah’s Witness a person cannot partially follow their old faith, and in the case of Cameroon, that means locals have to leave their ancestry worship behind — something which can be difficult for many when, like Christmas here, it's not just a religious practice but also a social one.
      “When we do preach to them and they read the Bible and realize ‘Hey my grandfather is just sleeping’ that means they have to leave these traditions that obviously contradict what the scriptures say, to serve Jehovah.”
      Fleming said that when he arrived in 1996 there were about 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country and that now there are about 40,000.
      He said many people in Cameroon see the positives of the faith, the health benefits it tends to lead to like stopping smoking or reducing AIDS, and actually approach his group to set up Jehovah’s Witnesses centres, or ‘kingdom halls’, in their community.
      “Many people in Cameroon make the change. I wouldn’t have stayed there for 20 years if we weren’t having wonderful success,” he said.

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    • By Bible Speaks
      REGIONAL CONVENTION IN CAMEROON, AFRICA   ASAMBLEA REGIONAL EN CAMERUN, AFRICA
    • By Bible Speaks
      The set of Likasi is regional French-speaking, Democratic Republic of the Congo in Katanga province.. We welcomed 41 new baptized to an audience of about 2,000 people.   Es el conjunto de Likasi expresión francesa regional, República Democrática del Congo, en la provincia de Katanga. Dimos la bienvenida a 41 nuevos bautizados a una audiencia de cerca de 2.000 personas. Merci beaucoup M!
    • By Bible Speaks
      The set of Likasi is regional French-speaking, Democratic Republic of the Congo in Katanga province..
      We welcomed 41 new baptized to an audience of about 2,000 people.
      Es el conjunto de Likasi expresión francesa regional, República Democrática del Congo, en la provincia
      de Katanga. Dimos la bienvenida a 41 nuevos bautizados a una audiencia de cerca de 2.000 personas.
      Merci beaucoup M!
    • By The Librarian
      Madagascar Branch Dedication  
    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Jehovah’s Witnesses are holding a series of four annual conventions at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, on Memorial Day weekend and during the summer.
      More than 16,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and their guests from throughout central New England will be attending the conventions, which are free and open to the public. The theme of this year’s program is “Remain Loyal to Jehovah.” The first of four conventions will be held May 27-29.
      Program highlights:
      • The three-day program will feature 49 presentations, each exploring the theme of loyalty.
      • The program will include 35 video segments specifically for the program plus two short films that will be shown on Saturday and Sunday.
      • Convention video trailers can be found at:
      Hello guest! Please register or sign in (it's free) to view the hidden content. • Each day, the morning and afternoon sessions will be introduced by music videos recorded for the convention.
      “We strongly believe that loyalty is an essential part of any healthy relationship,” states Don Smalley, convention organizer.
      “Our convention this year features content that will help people develop stronger bonds with friends, family members and, above all, with God. We are confident that all who attend will enjoy this program.”
      Other conventions are planned for June 17-19, July 8-10 and July 22-24. The Tsongas Center is at300 Arcand Drive, Lowell.
      Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to adhere to the form of Christianity that Jesus taught and that his apostles practiced. For more information about Jehovah's Witnesses and the conventions, visithttps://www.jw.org/en/
      Source: 
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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Conozca a los intrépidos Testigos que realizan un viaje extraordinario para transportar publicaciones bíblicas.

      502016521_S_cnt_1_r720P.mp4
    • By The Librarian
      Meet the intrepid Witnesses who transport publications on an epic journey.
       
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