On Wednesday, November 4, Robert and his family stepped through the doorway of their new home on a ranch in Melbourne.
The husband and wife and their three children had arrived in Orlando two nights before after leaving Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya where they had been living for six years after fleeing their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo because of violence and threats from the Rwandan military.
Now they live on a ranch in Melbourne with Sergio and Donna Salcedo who welcomed the refugee family into their home.
“We were looking for a way to help refugees and wanted to offer them a place to stay where they won’t have to worry about paying rent and can focus on saving money to one day move out on their own and live independently,” said Donna, a retired flight attendant who has spent some time traveling the world and is familiar with African cultures.
“We want them to feel welcome and safe as they build their new life.” said Sergio, an Emergency Room doctor who works with hospitals throughout the U.S.
Before their arrival in the United States, refugees often spend several years displaced or in a refugee camp. During that time, refugees undergo Department of Homeland Security background checks as well as medical examinations, which take years to complete.
They are also screened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and then interviewed for refugee eligibility by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Approved families are provided security clearances and are assigned to local affiliates such as Catholic Charities of Central Florida for resettlement. Once here, Catholic Charities of Central Florida staff members extend mercy to the refugees who have suffered unimaginable loss and suffering.
“We help get them started with a place to live, food, clothing, English lessons, employment services and job training,” said Carolina Toro, employment specialist with the Refugee Resettlement Program, a ministry of Catholic Charities that has been helping newly arrived refugees from across the world begin their new life in Central Florida since 1975.
The refugee resettlement ministry is a response to the Gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown Mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
In his home country, Robert was a biologist and worked on a nature preserve. In the refugee camp, he helped maintain a garden to feed other families seeking refuge. Now he has the opportunity to make a living for his family working on the ranch.
Over the next few months, Robert and his family will learn English – their third language after French and Swahili.
Toro will help Robert’s wife, Solange, 42, find a job. Their youngest, Patricia, 10, will attend the local elementary school. Their middle and oldest children, Marveille, 17 and Giselle, 20, will attend adult education classes and get part-time jobs.
With help from Catholic Charities of Central Florida and the generosity of others like Sergio and Donna, Robert’s family will learn to become self-sufficient.
Toro explained that the Refugee Resettlement Program relies on community support to furnish apartments and help set them up before a new refugee family arrives. Donations such as furniture, bicycles and household and personal care items are needed to help refugee families begin their new life in the U.S.