I know the challenges refugees face because I was once in their shoes. I came to the United States as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2007. My family and I were forced to leave everything behind because of war in East Congo. We fled for our lives. After 17 years of living in a refugee camp, I received the chance to come to the United States.
Today, I reflect on my journey and am so grateful to the United States and my new community for giving me another chance at life. As with many refugees, I would have preferred to remain in my homeland. However, because of war, I had to leave. The journey was difficult and long; truthfully, it is hard for me to talk about it to this day. After experiencing the trauma of being a refugee abroad, I faced other challenges when I resettled — new foods, new people, new language.
At first, I felt like I was nothing. I had a bachelor’s degree in accounting in my home country, but when I arrived I had zero English skills. My first job was working at Walmart. I worked the night shift, mopping and sweeping the restrooms. I would punch out at 7 a.m. to catch the bus so I could go to school. It was a struggle, but I was always very thankful to God because I was living in peace and safety. I learned English at Tarrant County College and continued to pursue my education. This December, I will graduate with my bachelor’s degree in social work and plan to pursue a master’s degree.
What made the biggest difference in overcoming these hardships and helped me find healing was the warm welcome I received from the Fort Worth community. That is why I am so proud to give back to the community that welcomed me. In addition to my work serving new refugees, I am an active leader in churches in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I coordinate worship and fellowship activities that bring our diverse communities together.
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As someone who understands the struggles of refugees firsthand, it is disheartening to see that my beloved new home might deny that same opportunity to others now facing similarly dangerous situations. I am especially concerned by recent reports that President Trump is considering admitting less than 50,000 refugees next year, the lowest admissions level in recent history. On average, our country has set our admissions number at 95,000 — under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
I call on the president and our national leaders to support resettling at least 75,000 refugees in fiscal year 2018. I believe in the importance of welcoming others — for others have welcomed me. My hope is that our local leaders, state legislators, and national policymakers find the courage and compassion to stand with refugees. Only then will we truly reflect the welcome our country stands for. Together, we can inspire welcome across the country and around the world.
Lambert Buhigiro is a cultural ambassador for Partners for Refugee Empowerment in Fort Worth. He leads a community support group for recently arrived refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Burundi and teach them how to adjust to their new life in America.