For the Nzokira family, Ottawa is a new beginning filled with dreams for their children and hope for a safe and bright future.
Their story began in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Jean Marie Nzokira, 37, and his wife, Janet, 36, were children when they escaped a brutal 12-year-long civil war in their home country of Burundi. They were among the 300,000 people who made the dangerous and long trek to a refugee camp. In the first year of violence, almost 100,000 people were killed. Elections were suspended and the population lived under a curfew for more than a decade.
As children, they didn’t know each other. Little did they know the refugee camp would become their home for more than 20 years. The refugee camp is where they met, fell in love and married. Their five children were born in the camp. They knew no other life.
It was a hard life, one you and I could never imagine. As a new father and husband, Jean Marie took any work he could find to earn money in order to buy food to feed his family. For many years, he worked as a labourer, clearing forest brush with a machete.
“Life was very hard. If you got sick, you died. If you had no money, you had no food and you died. The camp was deep in the forest and we were 10 miles from civilization,” says Jean Marie.
Refugees from Burundi were not so welcomed in Tanzania. Jean Marie says refugees were often attacked, their money and possessions stolen. They needed written permission to leave the camp. The authorities always demanded, where are you going, when are you coming back. They knew for their children’s sakes they needed a new life, a new beginning.
In 2011, they were overjoyed when Canadian officials told them they would be welcomed in our country. But it was six long years before they got to make the trip. While they waited, they were ostracized by the refugee community for their good fortune. As the years dragged on, they gave up hope. Then, unexpectedly, they were told to pack their meagre belongings. They were finally getting on a plane to Canada.
When they arrived last February, the Catholic Centre for Immigrants was there to meet them at the airport. We gave them a safe and warm place to stay at Reception House, often the first home for government-assisted refugees. We provided them with food and clothing. We enrolled their children in school. We helped them obtain various documents including health cards. After a month, we found the family a home where they feel safe for the first time in their lives.
Janet says the children are adjusting more easily. They are in school and have made friends. They regularly go on field trips to explore the city. “They are so excited to share with us everything they are learning.”
Janet says she doesn’t know what they would have done without the Catholic Centre for Immigrants. A year later, they still meet regularly with a case worker who is helping them adjust to everyday life, a life we take for granted. Those everyday things include finding a family doctor, enrolling in language classes, shopping for groceries, opening a bank account, accessing public transit and so much more. They say they feel blessed that health care and education are free in Canada.
Jean Marie says there are no words to describe how much their lives have changed since moving from a refugee camp to the nation’s capital. The family will always be eternally grateful to Canada.
Jean Marie and Janet are both anxious to find work. They take English classes every day. Jean Marie wants to be a bus driver while Janet wants to go to college to study child care. They now dream of a bright future for their children.
Your support has helped ensure bright futures for the many refugee families arriving in Ottawa, for this we thank you. However, we still need your help as refugee families and immigrants continue to arrive in our city every day. Please make a donation to help these families experience their own new beginning.