With help of Rock Island parish, Alleman students, peace finds the Kabunze Family
ROCK ISLAND — It isn’t uncommon to pray for peace on earth during the Christmas Season, but few people appreciate that gift in the way Kasaika and Maombi Kabunze do.
The couple, who escaped from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2005 with two small children, have spent the last 11 years in a refugee camp in Kamapala, Uganda. This Christmas they are starting to enjoy the peace they longed for in Rock Island, thanks to a partnership between St. Pius X Parish and World Relief Moline.
Along with a sense of peace has come the opportunity to build a new life, and a host of new friends with whom to share it.
“It’s more comfortable when you have your own safe place,” Kasaika recently told The Catholic Post, with the help of interpreters Matthew and Patricia Simon. “Once I get a job we can have our own place, so when my children go to school they’ll know they have their own place and won’t worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Members of St. Pius X, including students from Alleman High School, alleviated those fears for the time being by bringing them a Christmas tree strung with bright white lights and stockings for each member of the family, which now includes eight children. There were also ornaments with photos of the family.
At a Christmas party on Dec. 12, the Alleman students presented two major gifts to the Kabunzes: a washer and dryer. That way the family doesn’t have to make weekly trips to the laundromat to wash clothes for 10 people.
Samantha Sharp, a senior at Alleman who chairs the committee of English tutors for the Kabunze children, said the project was proposed by Don Adams, the Key Club adviser at the Rock Island high school.
“He really wanted our Key Club to help the community in a different way and this was a totally new concept for the school,” she explained. “Our goal was $1,563.26 and we raised $2,287.49. . . . We thought that was the most amazing thing.”
With the extra funds, the students bought laundry baskets, detergent, dryer sheets, hangers, hanging racks, and tables, so the family can sit and fold their clothes, Sharp said.
The fundraisers included asking people for $1 and for each $10 donated, the student received credit for one service hour. They also competed by class to see who could raise the most money, with the reward being a free jean day. (The freshmen won).
“We raised over $900 in the first three weeks,” Sharp said.
Parishioners added the names of their adopted family to the Angel Tree during Advent to make certain they would each have a gift at Christmas. They will also receive a box of food and additional household items from the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
FOCUS ON INDEPENDENCE
Since arriving in the Quad Cities on Sept. 7, the Kabunzes have settled into a four-bedroom house stocked with necessities by members of St. Pius X. Parishioners have been mentoring them on visits to the grocery store, transportation, and getting the six older children enrolled in school. The Alleman students come on Tuesdays and Thursdays to tutor them in English, math and science.
“School is still an adjustment for all of them — having to do homework every day and putting your English skills to work in all your homework,” Sharp said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s science or math, you have to apply all of your English skills.”
Education is a priority for Kasaika and Maombi Kabunze, who said this opportunity is one of the best parts of living in America.
The couple is also taking courses in English as a Second Language and Kasaika is applying for jobs. In the refugee camp he worked as a farmer, offered rides on his motorcycle, and was a security guard in a hospital, but will take whatever he can do now to provide for his family.
His ideal job would be as a mechanic, while Maombi would like to be a teacher someday.
Barbara Roedel, director of adult faith formation and coordinator of liturgy at St. Pius and the point person for parish’s efforts, said the goal is for them to have a steady income so they can establish a bank account and credit rating. A parishioner has offered to help the Kabunzes develop a budget when the time is right, she said.
“The focus now is empowering them to be independent citizens,” Roedel told The Post.
Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor, said he is pleased with the way members of the parish have embraced the family, an outreach started specifically in response to the Year of Mercy.
“People are very much interested in helping them and that has happened throughout the whole parish,” he said. “Now the point is to try to get a transition plan so they can become more independent, because that’s what they’re going to have to do.”
At the same time, St. Pius X intends to continue to journey with them, he said, “walking with them as fellow followers in the Lord.”
The Kabunzes said they are Christian, but not Catholic. They have been attending Masses for the African community each Sunday at St. Mary Parish in Rock Island, however, and have found a sense of community there, according to Roedel.