Kindness in Real Life: Local churches welcome refugees

It’s said it takes a village, and Old Lyme is home to such a village. Old Lyme and its surrounding communities have a long history of welcoming refugees from war-torn regions across the globe, resettling families from Laos, Burma and Rwanda.

In the spring of 2016, in response to the worldwide refugee crisis, Christ the King Roman Catholic Church, First Congregational Church Old Lyme, and St. Ann’s Episcopal Church created a new, ecumenical Refugee Resettlement Committee with the goal of helping newly arrived refugees adapt and thrive in their new home.

The committee draws volunteers from several local towns and works closely with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven. IRIS is a non-sectarian, independent non-profit refugee resettlement agency that has welcomed more than 5,000 refugees to Connecticut since 1982.

Over the past two years the group has welcomed a refugee family from Syria and a Puerto Rican family whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Thanks to generous financial donations and volunteer help, the committee is able to provide temporary housing, access to social services and medical care, transportation, educational support and employment opportunities, always working toward each family’s self-sufficiency and independence.

Recently the committee has welcomed a family from Africa. As citizens of the Republic of Congo, located in west-central Africa, Martine Kabanga and Joseph Kazadi were forced to leave their home in May 2012 with three of their four children: Miriama, Drysile and Joey. Tragically, their 20-year-old son, Shadrack Olivier, and Martine’s brother, Bertrand, did not escape with them.

Because of Martine’s activities as a journalist writing articles about human rights and Joseph’s profession as an attorney, they faced insecurity and persecution. After they fled the Republic of the Congo, they spent one year in refugee camps in Kakuma and then relocated to Nairobi for three years, arriving in the United States in 2016.

Their lives have been very difficult and filled with stress and trauma. Even though they are safe here, unexpected events can remind them of all they have endured.

The family is grateful for the opportunity to live in the United States. Their “heroes” are all Americans who stand with refugees and welcome them into the United States, the staff of IRIS who helped the family begin the resettlement process, and now the people of Old Lyme who have opened their hearts and hands to welcome and support them. For the next year they will reside in the refugee house in Old Lyme and then seek a permanent residence. Their three children are enrolled in Old Lyme schools. Joseph often says “May God bless America and Old Lyme.” The committee feels blessed by their presence.

The Refugee Resettlement Committee is always looking for volunteers and donations of time and resources. Contact can be made through any of the Old Lyme churches or the Refugee Resettlement Committee, 2 Ferry Rd, Old Lyme, CT 06371.

Carol Carlson is treasurer of the Refugee Resettlement Committee of Old Lyme.

To submit an item for Kindness in Real Life, email times@theday.com.

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