Ancila and Kathy
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we want to thank God for women like Ancila and her friend Kathy.
At 16 years old, Ancila lost her father when a civil war broke out between the Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi in 1972. Fleeing to the Congo with her mother, this is when Ancila first became a refugee, a title she would carry for 43 years. Ancila lived in the Congo with her husband and children for 24 years, always hoping they would return to Burundi. But when war broke out in 1996, Ancila and her family were forced to flee again, this time to Tanzania.
Walking much of the way, Ancila would tell her children, “Even if you’re tired, you have to keep walking. The enemy is right behind us. We must keep going”. The family would spend the next 19 years living in three separate refugee camps there. They farmed within the confines of the camp and Ancila began sewing clothing to make money on the side. Ancila reflects back on that time, saying, “Life in the camps was very bad. You are not allowed to go out. We were behind a fence the whole time. And you always have to depend on someone else for everything, even for food.”
When it became clear the situation in Burundi was not improving, the Tanzanian Government began working with the UNHCR to begin the process of third country resettlement. Over the course of four years and countless interviews, Ancila and her family were approved to come to the United States.
The idea of coming to the US made Ancila very nervous. She had been a refugee for 43 years, treated like an outsider and persecuted for her ethnicity in three separate countries. How would she be received in the United States?
Meanwhile, Kathy was living in the suburbs of Chicago. A member of a Catholic church in Geneva, Kathy was moved when she heard Pope Francis speak of the refugee crisis and the need for the church to help refugees. With no idea where to begin, Kathy emailed the White House to ask what she could do. She received a reply with the contact information of World Relief DuPage/Aurora, so she called and came in for a volunteer orientation. Kathy said she would like to be paired with a refugee who might need friendship and help navigating life here in the US. That is how Kathy met Ancila, both of whom are great friends to this day. While they don’t share a language, they manage to communicate. Ancila has made some beautiful shirts for Kathy. She speaks of her highly, saying, “When I met Kathy, it was the best time. It made me feel very good. Kathy helped me to go shopping. She helped me to buy the medicine I needed…This is the one person in the United States I will never forget. She is like my new mom”.
After a little experience communicating with Kathy despite not sharing the same language, Ancila felt equipped to begin pursing a job. She enrolled in WRDA’s ESL classes, learned a little English, and gained the confidence needed to take the next step. She was recommended for hire to AJR Filtration, a local company offering a sewing school that has hired 300 refugees in the past 5 years. After passing the sewing school in just one month, Ancila accepted a job as an industrial seamstress, making a higher wage than her husband and any of her sons. She is providing for her family and contributing to her broader community. She is confident and self-sufficient, saying, “Working in the United States is better, and I feel better and better everyday. Because the time I was home alone, I was feeling isolated. Every day I was frustrated. Sometimes I needed to buy something, and I didn’t have money. So I was depending on someone every day. Now I feel very sufficient, and it’s much better.” And the best thing about being here in America? “The security. This is a safe place. We feel comfortable. We are not discriminated against here. There is freedom and liberty here.”
So today we thank God for women. We thank God for the survivors, the entrepreneurs, the nurturers and the peacemakers like Ancila and Kathy. And we thank God for our opportunity to live alongside them. Where would we be without women like these?