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Mwenya Gabriel MukumbaMwenya and Gabriel Mukumba at a potluck gathering at St John’s Anglican Church March 4. The newcomer family from the Congo settled in Saugeen Shores in October, with help from the Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund.

Hub Staff

After resettling in Saugeen Shores in October 2017, the Mukumba family has made friends, learned to skate, and experienced a Bruce County winter, with members of the family surrounded by new friends and members of the Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund (SSRF) at a potluck dinner held at St John’s Anglican Church on March 4.

The refugee family, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, had been living in a refugee settlement in Zambia where older children Joy and John attended an English speaking school and have been able to excel in Canadian life. Katherine Martinko, coordinator for the SSRF said resettling the Congolese family is a different experience for the group who resettled a Syrian Refugee family, the Alibrahims, over two years ago. 

“It’s a completely different experience than the Syrian family for sure,” said Martinko. “[The Mukumbas are] from the Congo but they've been living in Zambia for the past 18 years in a refugee camp so it’s a very stark difference in lifestyle from what it was for the Syrian family that lived in a Western culture in many ways before fleeing.”

Martinko said that parents Gabriel and Mwenya have been attending English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in Owen Sound but due to a lack of volunteer drivers have not been able to attend every day. “The upwelling of enthusiasm for resettling refugees has died down,” said Martinko, who is actively looking for drivers to fill in the gaps for the couple’s Monday to Friday classes.

“People they grow tired of certain causes, and they move on to other important issues, so it is a bit harder to find people willing to help out but it’s important to remember how important this work is,” she said, adding, “it still matters just as much to these refugees no matter when it’s happening.”

Martinko said that the Mukumba family, who practice the Jehovah Witness faith, have made connections to the local centre and called the family “very easy going, very gentle, sweet, friendly people” who are “extremely eager to work and support themselves.”

The Mukumba family has four elementary aged children. Joy is the eldest, followed by John, Katherine and Roy. Martinko said that Katherine and Roy grew up speaking a tribal language but are picking up on the English language quickly.

Joy, who is enrolled in Grade 7, was poised when she said she “loves friends,” likes skating and is getting better each time she goes, but didn't recommend falling to anyone. Joy is looking forward to summer when she can go swimming and play soccer.

John admitted to liking hockey but is still learning to skate so he wants to hone in on the skills by playing ball hockey first. John said he likes “pita” days at school where he has also made friends and admitted the biggest differences he has faced in Canada is school itself. “We have a big school here, and they have everything, like if you don't have a pencil they can help you... and everyone has their own desk, in Africa we shared,” he said.

The pair then explained that in Africa students would share long desks and sit on benches and admitted having their own chairs in Canada is nice.

Gabriel, who is still learning English said Canada is good when asked about his first four months here. “I like summer no snow, snow is cold, shovelling snow no,” he said laughing. Gabriel is fluent in Swahili and once worked as a salesman and also worked as a bicycle mechanic for 14 years. With help from Port Elgin’s Papy Mukenge, who is also fluent in Swahili, Gabriel explained that he used to ride long distances and joked that maybe he could ride to ESL classes in Owen Sound once in a while.

Through Mukenge, Gabriel explained that he and his family are happy and that they are very grateful for all that the SSRF has done to help them and went on to express future concerns for his family once the SSRF and Mennonite Central Committee ends in October.

“I’m very excited about Canada and the future with transportation continues with school but when the sponsor pulls back we don't know what’s going to happen. There’s no bus here and that’s one of the concerns we see in the future. We want to study and get through school to get into the job market,” said Mukenge on behalf of Gabriel.

Martinko said that after three years of helping bring people in need to Canada that she can now see the fruits of the committee’s labour. “It’s more than two years since the first family arrived, so now I've gotten to this point where I can see how it’s working and how it’s taken root and they're really integrating and doing well for themselves.” For the Mukumba family she hopes they continue to make connections. “It’s going to make them feel that they belong here.”

If anyone is interested in assisting the Mukumba family or is interesting in volunteering or driving one day a week please contact saugeen.refugeefund@gmail.com. You can join their facebook page.

Yuhai Amini Mukenge John MukumbaYuhai (left) and Amini Mukenge of Port Elgin with their friend John Mukumba at the potluck dinner March 4.

pot luckThe potluck gathering was enjoyed by the Mukumba family and their new friends and acquaintances March 4.

SSRF Mwenya Gabriel MukumbaMembers of the Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund Tara Somerville, Kim Blackmore, Mariam Joudeh, Katherine Martinko and Betsy Palko with Mwenya and Gabriel Mukumba (front) March 4.

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