In December 2018, more than 20 years after Abedi Shishi fled his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he arrived in Richmond, Virginia with his wife Neema and their seven children. When first they fled, the family was welcomed in Tanzania by the International Rescue Committee.
While in the refugee camp in Tanzania, Shishi became an active volunteer for the IRC, organizing activities for young children including soccer [football] matches and art projects. Just like here in the US, lack of access to childcare can disproportionately impact women’s abilities to participate in educational and entrepreneurial programs offered by the IRC and their partners in refugee camps. Shishi’s youth programs not only gave the children something to look forward to, but also benefitted their parents. The IRC in Tanzania presented Shishi with a certificate honoring him as an IRC Gender Champion, in recognition of his work promoting gender equality across IRC’s operations and programs.
“It may surprise you that the [Democratic Republic of Congo] is very rich, but the people are poor. They are learned and wise, but do not have jobs,” says Shishi. Before he fled the conflict in DRC there was no work, even for those with advanced degrees. Refugees often do not have authorization to work in their camp or host country, and rely on informal jobs to support their families. Now, with his family safe, and his children in school, Shishi is finally able to work.
Reflecting on his homeland and his new life in the United States, Shishi remarks “I regret terribly that there are still battles ensuing in the Congo. I love America because America understands the rights of man. If it is God’s will, I will be become an American.”
St. Elizabeth’s Church in Richmond and a group of previously resettled Congolese refugees who now volunteer with the IRC have been instrumental in the Shishi family’s resettlement.