This was no easy feat for Isakshitaa but with the gracious help of many generous institutions and individuals, including St. Francis in the Foothills, UMC, St. Marks UMC, First UMC and Southside Presbyterian, the Musombe family has arrived to a completely renovated house and property, enrolled in school, and family-member Oswald has found a job, to name just a few feats. These efforts exemplify the very definition of the Somali word Iskashitaa, “working cooperatively together”.
But we want you to hear directly from the family’s most dedicated Iskashitaa volunteer, Charmaine Lewis. Many hands, ranging from volunteers, donors, organizers, truck owners, drivers and mentors helped Iskashitaa staff and refugees in this endeavor. To all of them we to say Asanti sana sana sana – thank you very very much, in Kiswahili.
There is an old saying in my native Jamaica, “One cocoa full basket!” It speaks to the power of collective action and effort to yield a greater result than would the effort of one person alone.
In late July I received an email invitation to join the “Dream Team” to help the Mushombe family from Congo resettle in Tucson. Initially, they had been placed in Portland, Oregon after being granted refugee status in the United States. I was really struck by the needs of this family of 10 children and two loving parents faced with rebuilding a life in yet another place after nearly 5 years of displacement from their homeland.
It would have been easy to just write a check and walk away, feeling that I had contributed something of great value, but sometimes money is not enough. Sometimes giving demands concrete personal involvement and even a measure of personal sacrifice. It’s a kind of giving that requires going beyond one’s comfort zone to invest personally in the lives of strangers. It’s a kind of giving that may just yield greater impact and value in the longer term.
I asked myself, what would I need were I to be dropped into an alien place without any possessions or language skills or the cultural currency needed to survive and thrive? So instead of just writing that check and walking away I chose to take what for me is more meaningful and impactful action.
In addition to calling on all my local friends and contacts to donate clothes and household items to the family, I chose to make myself available to the family as a concierge or ambassador. As a busy mom of two very young children, that has required some planning and coordination.
It’s meant driving rather long distances to their home and struggling to communicate with them in my terribly broken French. It’s meant popping by to be present with Mrs. Mushombe in her home to play with her kids while she tidies up her kitchen. It’s meant driving Mr. Mushombe to the hardware store to buy a replacement window or to the DMV to help him navigate that wonderland of bureaucracy! It’s meant talking to their children about my children and my life so they can get a picture of the possibilities and potential that may await them in their new life in America.
So far I don’t feel I have done terribly much and I wish I could do more, if only I had more time and brilliant ideas. However, if everyone reading this can put “one cocoa in the basket” then our small efforts combined could certainly make a greater impact on the long term success of this family than could mine alone. Sometimes we don’t take action because we feel we can’t make a big splashy showing or because we can’t see the immediate impact of our actions.
This family has been on an uphill climb for many years and will continue this way for many more years by dint of being refugees in a new place, during difficult economic times. Without significant financial resources and long-term support there is a great risk that they will fall through the cracks of our society and be doomed to a life of poverty. However, it is my belief and experience that poverty of knowledge and lack of access to the intangible cultural and social language is one of the greatest barriers to escaping poverty. So if you can’t give money, you can give of your knowledge and experience of making a life in the US. Things you take for granted and do automatically are things they will have to learn, sometimes through painful experiences. If you can give nothing else, you can give of time and experience and knowledge.
By making direct, sustained personal connection with this family, we can create a humane social safety net for the Mushombes. Another way of thinking about it is to imagine our actions creating a launch pad for this family to transition out of this state of their lives into one in which they can become productive and contributing citizens of Tucson and the United States.