By Suzanne Driscoll
When revolution comes to your homeland, sometimes the only option is to leave with the clothes on your back. This was a decision the Ndoole family had to make when the Congolese Revolutionary Army took over the city of Goma, a provincial capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in 2013. Known as the March 23 Movement (M23), the army was composed of disgruntled members of the rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), allegedly sponsored by the government of the neighboring states of Rwanda and Uganda. Over 140,000 people were forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
“We couldn’t bring anything with us because suitcases would have attracted a lot of attention,” 24 year old Kikuru Ndoole, one of 11 children, recalls. “We ended up living in a refugee camp in Uganda for three long years.”
The Ndoole family was thrilled when they were selected to be interviewed by a United Nations agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), whose mission is to “protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.”
The UNHCR took care of the entire process of finding the Ndooles a permanent home in the United States. They were brought to Kampala, Uganda for interviews and medical exams for the entire family. At long last they were given a travel date and brought to Rochester, New York in 2016. The Catholic Family Center found them housing and provided all the necessary furniture and supplies. However, the family’s first priority was to continue their education.
The Ndooles were fortunate to receive assistance from the UNHCR before the outbreak of the Coronavirus. UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said on April 17, 2020 that the agency has had to “step up efforts across West and Central Africa to protect millions of vulnerable people who are facing a renewed risk from the combined effects of conflict and the coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated challenges in a region already dealing with one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, involving over nine million forcibly displaced people. The pandemic has led to border closures and added an increased strain on fragile health systems and weak economies.”
Education is Priority One
The five oldest brothers and a sister of the Ndoole family now attend Monroe Community College and have big plans for the future. Ruwanda, age 27, is studying intergovernmental organization; Kikuru, age 24, is interested in homeland security; his twin Kito is majoring in human services; Ricardo, age 23, is studying engineering as is Heros, age 20; and 17 year old Mariana would like to become a doctor and “travel the world providing care to women and children.” All of the brothers attend school full-time and work off campus. Fortunately, they learned English while living in the DRCand also speak French, Swahili, and Lingala(a Congolese dialect).
Kikuru works full time at a security company and would like to work for the FBI as a special agent after he receives his four year degree. All of the siblings plan to apply for citizenship in order to take advantage of more career opportunities.
“After everything that we went through in our lives, we all want to be part of something that will help people, says Sam. “Monroe Community College is one of the best schools as far as I know. You feel welcomed here plus we have all the resources that we need. Imagine coming from a place where you have to walk 5-10 miles to go to school. You have to dream about being in a library to study. But here we have computers everywhere, the library, pretty much everything we need.”
The Ndooles have enjoyed meeting other students from Congo, Nigeria and other countries in Africa. “That’s the beauty of MCC,” says Kikuru. “There is such an interesting mix of people here from different backgrounds.” The family also appreciates the faculty and staff who care about their personal success and have helped ease their transition to college life. “They’re always there to help us,” says Kito. “You never feel alone here.”
In addition to these six ambitious scholars, there are five other Ndoole children living under the same roof: twins Odette and Odile, 15; Benjamin, 13; Bazile, 10; and Hersen, 7. Odette and Odile plan to join their siblings at Monroe Community College this fall.
Mr. Ndoole, who was an engineer and later worked in a local bank, was targeted and killed by the rebels. Ever since his death, Mubawa Bahati, the brave mother of the Ndoole family had to assume responsibility as head of the household. After arriving in Rochester, she attended cooking classes, while taking care of her children, and now works in dining services at a local college.
Kikuru’s advice for those who have the opportunity to emigrate to the United States is to “Stay out of trouble and follow the rules. I see a lot of people my age partying all the time and some even went to jail. Don’t put yourself in a bad situation. Take advantage of all the opportunities here to attend school or get a job.”
Twin brother Kito agrees and further adds, “Our story should be an inspiration to people that you can do anything you want, but education comes first. Us being here is a miracle after what we’ve been through. We try to turn a bad situation into a positive one.”
Suzanne Driscoll is a staff writer for Sharemoney. Hailing from Rochester, New York, she has written for national publications on issues involving business, healthcare, education and immigration.