Congolese family adjusting to new life after resettling in Misso - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Congolese family adjusting to new life after resettling in Missoula

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The Makeci family made the long journey from a refugee camp in Tanzania to build a new life in Missoula. (MTN News photo) The Makeci family made the long journey from a refugee camp in Tanzania to build a new life in Missoula. (MTN News photo)

With dreams big enough for Big Sky Country, the Makeci family made the long journey from the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania to build a new life in Missoula.

They are being resettled in Missoula through the International Rescue Committee. Parents Joel and Abwe have five children, three of them are old enough to be in the Missoula County Public School system.

Abwe said she has felt welcome and happy to be in Missoula.

“Just as I have been so happy since we got here, just to see how easily and openly people have received us, and what I hoped for, that my children could study, has come true," Abwe said. "So, I just hope I can learn quickly and become accustomed to Missoula quickly."

For Joel and Abwe, the decision to apply for resettlement was to give their children the opportunity for a better life.

The refugee resettlement support organization Soft Landing Missoula, that initially reached out to the IRC to invite them to resettle refugees in the community, plays a crucial role in continuing to support families once they arrive.

"Talking with some of Missoula's former refugee families, talking with the families, they want the families to know, like 'Hey, I've been there. It was really, really, really hard, but I need you to know my son is an engineer and my other child is a nurse and all four kids have graduated from college,'” said Soft Landing Executive Director Mary Poole.

Even with Soft Landing's help, there is no replacement for a true friend. Shirley Lindburg -- the English Language Learner Coordinator and Gifted and Talented Coordinator for MCPS -- first met the family at school.

“I just became friends with this family so we get to spend a lot of time together. Bertha call me 'Bibi' which means grandmother in Swahili, and I just was thrilled to hear that. So it's just quite a wonderful thing. I love it,” Lindburg said.

According to Lindburg, MCPS currently has students learning English as a second language in elementary, middle and high school.

"We have immigrant students who are not refugees who are also coming in with little to no English.  What is wonderful about that, is that they also learn and take it in like a sponge. So they learn very quickly, they learn from the students around them, they learn from the teachers, they learn from the tutors. And their ability to speak English proficiently grows a lot faster,” Lindburg said.

Poole told MTN News that the IRC refugee resettlement program pushes self-sufficiency early on in the resettlement process. Building a community is considered to be a big part of that.

But perhaps their biggest challenge lies ahead as they find themselves in a position familiar to many people in Missoula: trying to support a family on low-income wages. 

“We want to be American. The only way they can make it work is for their work to be enough, for them to have enough opportunity. The big challenge is having enough money for the family, having enough hours of work, getting enough help,” said Joel.

The Makeci's look forward to giving back to the community they now call home. Lindburg invited the family to her church, where their talents are welcomed with open arms.

The obstacles are formidable, but for this family, the American dream is not out of reach. 

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