For Regina, helping other women and building community is nothing new. The native of Congo has been helping women in varying capacities since 2003. It was at that time, while living in a refugee camp, that she and a few other women from Congo decided to take the initiative to improve women’s livelihoods by teaching and enhancing life skills that improve their income generating ability, thereby fighting against poverty and hunger. They were successful in helping women begin saving cash and eventually, due to the positive response, they procured funding from the Catholic church.
With that successful experience, Regina arrived July of 2017, in Cedar Rapids, with her husband and three children. CMC resettled her family, and Regina was in communication with her case manager regularly. About eight months after resettlement, Regina noticed there were some challenges to maintaining the same cultural values as they had in their native land. She noticed the language and transportation barriers, for instance, and decided she wanted to bring women together so they could help one another. “When we know each other, we can help each other,” says Regina. As a way of helping out and forming community, a few of the women met and decided to form an initiative called “Umoja Wamama Africa”, which would enhance the refugee experience by offering:
- Assistance to new arrivals
- Promoting peace and unity within family and community
- Provide family and youth counseling
As a result of this initiative, Regina has helped welcome 10 families to the Cedar Rapids area. Her group’s activities include meeting families at the airport, preparing and sharing a welcome meal with new arrivals at their respective homes, providing guidance on how and where to buy or get basic needs/services, and helping with interpretation.
With this structure in place, it was only natural that when the derecho happened last August, Regina would offer to cook meals. She and a group of Congolese women fed 80 adults and children for 6 days immediately following the disaster, and continued providing lunches to 35 refugee youth attending remote classes at the Catherine McAuley Center. The group’s hard work helped to provide culturally appropriate meals to refugee youth so they could learn on-site at CMC, receiving support from staff.
Regina is proud of what the group has accomplished, but continues to set her sights on expanding their services, both locally and abroad. CMC is proud to partner with Umoja Wamama Africa to provide culturally appropriate welcomes for new arrivals. Thanks to these women for all they do for the local refugee community!