The Pacifique family is much like any other. Enjoying meals together, working, and going to school, their daily routines are the same as millions of other Americans. However, their journey to create this life was far from ordinary and often a journey to survive.
Their journey started in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the war in Congo, sometimes known as the Great African War or Second Congo War, is why the Pacifique family fled to Zambia in 2000. Over 5.4 million people died in this conflict, many from starvation and disease.
Zambia was dangerous as well, says Amuor Pacifique. The family was attacked shortly after arriving. Amour and his father were beaten and his mother was killed. They managed to escape and fled to a United Nations office to apply for refugee status.
They then found a safer area in Zambia to settle, and began to make the best of their situation. Years passed, and Amuor was able to find work. He started driving a truck and was able to make a living, and eventually able to go back to school for a business degree.
Life was still difficult, but the family was surviving. Everything changed, though, when the family was selected to resettle to the United States, beginning a process that in many cases takes several years while families wait in difficult circumstances.
I visited the Pacifique family in their five bedroom semi-detached rental home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just one month after they arrived in the United States. We were scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. and I arrived to find them eating. I apologized for coming when they were having a meal but they asked me to sit with them at the table and gave me a large plate of goat stew and rice. They wanted me to share their meal.
As we talked, they discussed the challenges and hurdles they had to overcome in their first month. When the family first arrived in the United States the children became sick as they were not accustomed to American food or diet, but they quickly found ways to prepare more traditional meals.
Another major difference that they encountered in their first month in the U.S., was the American emphasis on timeliness and dependence on clocks. “Everything is attached to a ‘time’ of day,” Amour said. “Appointments to see the doctor, the case manager, work – everything happens and ends at an exact minute!”
I asked him what they miss about their life in Congo. “Nothing,” he said emphatically.
Altogether the family is comprised of 13 people, two extended families living in one home and excited about the opportunities that their new life brings. Three already have jobs, the children are enrolled in and love school, and they all seem to exude optimism for the future.
CWS resettled the Pacifique family in Lancaster and helped them with a place to live, employment, support from the area faith community, doctor appointments and school enrollment for the children. CWS Kits, Emergency Cleanup Buckets and Blankets were provided to help them meet their immediate needs of keeping their new home clean with blankets on their beds to keep them warm in winter.
Omar, their CWS case manager, reviewed with Amuor’s father, Jean De Dieu, how to use the provided envelopes to pay rent. The landlord’s name was already on the envelope and Omar explained that “you need to get stamps and put a stamp in this corner.” I reached into my wallet and gave Omar a stamp so that he could show Jean how to post the rent – another small part of surviving in the U.S.
I asked both men what they would like to be doing in a year. “I want a house,” Amuor said quickly, “I want to own a part of this country – this is now my country and I want a part of it.” Jean said he would like some land to farm.
The children were arriving home from school as we were finishing our time together. I asked for a chance to get a picture and an impromptu gathering of some the family occurred on the front porch of their home, with the children using CWS cleaning buckets as stools!
My final question to Amour was, “What do you want people to know about your journey to the United States?”
After pausing for only a second he said, “It took too long to get here!”
Story and photos by Patrick Walker, a Senior Community Engagement Specialist with CWS in Pennsylvania.