18 Aug 2023

Women’s Refugee Care

Josh Pereira


When he lived in the Congo, Clement Shabani and his wife Binyugngu served as social workers and led an organization that provided critical services including legal, education and health support to women and children.

But while they were helping others, they were living in conflict and had no choice but to leave their unsafe environment. They arrived in the United States and settled in Rhode Island; with few belongings and little knowledge of the English language. With minimal support and no connection in the local community, they struggled to adjust to their new surroundings, culture, language, food, and frigid winter weather. 

Experiencing first-hand how extremely difficult it was to transition to life in the U.S., Clement vowed to make it easier for other refugees so that they feel welcome and have a smooth transition to live in their new surroundings.

“We experienced very different weather and a very different language. It was so hard to adjust. Helping others was necessary,” said Clement. 

The volunteer-driven organization supports 150 families (1550 individuals) who have arrived in Rhode Island from the Congo. The vulnerable refugees who face many challenges that impact their access to housing and employment, are at high risk for living in poverty.

“It’s very hard to adjust to a new culture, new foods, new language. Once we see what they need, we can help,” said Clement. “It’s very important to me. When you don’t have a voice, it’s hard to be heard. We must be the voice of the voiceless. Raising voices raises people up, helps them to acclimate and thrive.”

WRC places a strong emphasis on providing support to women.

“We know when we are serving women, we are serving the whole family,” said Clement. “Strong and informed women and mothers promote healthy, productive families and communities.”

Catherine Kamika is one of those women.

She arrived in Rhode Island from the Congo with her husband and five children. Catherine didn’t speak English, had never seen snow or felt the chill of a New England winter and faced many other challenges as she attempted to navigate her new surroundings.

“WRC means everything to me. I am so thankful to WRC for the support they gave to me and my family. (WRC) welcoming program was the first integration offered to me and my family and the process (continues) until our kids are enrolled in school, and we find our first job. Helping us with a cultural orientation, job readiness, and (creating a) resume are crucial support we received,” said Catherine. “Attending the Women’s Empowerment Group is a relief to me. Through (WRC) programs, (we) became self-sufficient in a short time. “

With support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection, WRC can expand its programming, increase its staff, and reach more refugees.

“With the funding we will be able to have the opportunity to develop what we have in place and help refugees thrive,” said Clement. “I’m so thankful to POC. This grant is so meaningful. With their support the BIPOC population can thrive. Thanks to POC we can stabilize the work we are doing and be helpful to more community members.”

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