I was 3 years old and living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with my grandparents and siblings. There were always wars and shootings. It was never safe. One night, we were inside the house. People broke in. We had no warning. There was yelling and loud bangs. That night, I saw my grandfather die. But all we could do was run.
We fled the DRC to Uganda. There, I grew up in a refugee camp with my grandmother, and older brother and sister. Education in a camp is never guaranteed and I was 9 years old before I attended school. We feared mild colds and injuries because healthcare was nearly non-existent and if you got sick, chances were you would not survive. It was difficult to watch my ailing and aging grandmother sit on the floor of a tent without medication or enough food or water on a daily basis.
Seven years passed before we received word that we were accepted into the United States refugee resettlement program. That is the best day I can remember. I was 13 years old when I took my first plane trip—the plane that would take us to America. It was like a dream, like magic. I was free. I was safe. I was going to a new home where everything would be ok.
I arrived in America in 2014. At that time, my grandmother’s health did not afford her the opportunity to take care of me and my siblings so we were placed in the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program at LSSNCA. They took care of us and found a home for me where I was loved like a member of the family. I was blessed with two little foster brothers (who are not so little anymore) and a mom, Allison, and a dad, Joe.
In 2018, I graduated valedictorian of my class and was awarded scholarships to several universities. Today, I am attending Arizona State University for air transportation management. Ever since my first flight to my new home in the United States, I’ve wanted to become a pilot. So far I have logged 40 flight hours and each time I get in the cockpit, I relive the magic of that very first flight.
Last June, we lost my grandmother but she always reminded us how lucky we were to be given a life in the United States. As a result, I never take the little things for granted. My life here is a harsh contrast to growing up in the refugee camp. I am still struck by the capacity of my family’s fridge and the ability to eat as many meals or snacks as I want. I am humbled to have the opportunity to see a doctor or receive a vaccine that will keep me healthy. Most of all, here in America, I have the knowledge of knowing my dreams can come true if I am willing to work hard enough to achieve them. There are so many children still growing up in camps, born into wars, starving for food, and fearful of the daytime as much as the night—I made myself a promise that I would not waste my life in the United States, and I would make my dream come true for all of the children that will never have the opportunity.
Dieudonne found comfort and family through the LSSNCA Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) program. Like thousands of other families and children this past year who were forced to flee their homes and find refuge in the United States, Dieudonne received needed services and care, such as counseling and therapy, English classes, financial literacy, college application assistance, and cultural orientation.
Over the past year, our URM program served 26 refugee youth and started training 45 new foster homes. We’re expanding our program in 2022 to include unaccompanied children who do not yet have refugee status and those who are seeking asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief, including Afghan children who lost their loved ones this past year.
Your gift will also provide continuing services, not only for youth like Dieudonne, but for all of our programs. We thank you for your ongoing support of our mission, and for leading the work of welcome in your community. DONATE TODAY.