In 2016, the Our Lady of Grace Parish adopted Esperance Zibera and her family as part of the Refugee Resettlement Program through Catholic Charities of the East Bay. It was an honor to have Esperance and her family attend our 9:30 am Mass on Sunday, February 18th and join us in Stack Center afterward for our weekly “coffee and donuts.”
Esperance and family expressed their great appreciation for all the material and monetary gifts that our parishioners donated to aid their transition from their life in a refugee camp in Uganda to their new start in the United States.
The generosity of the Our Lady of Grace Parish truly aligns with what Jesus teaches us about welcoming strangers and answers the call of Pope Francis to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees.
It’s hard to believe that our refugee family has already been here for over a year. Esperance and her 4 children arrived on September 9, 2016. Esperance’s brother, Giddeon Niyonzima, and his wife, Bazirake, arrived later to live with them in their small apartment in Oakland. It has been a challenging time for all of them, learning to live in an entirely unfamiliar culture. Giddeon, and Bazirake learned some English in school in their Ugandan refugee camp, but Esperance never had the opportunity to go to school or to learn any English.
In spite of the challenges, the family has been doing well in many respects. Giddeon has a full-time job in a sausage factory in San Leandro. The 2 older children, Harriet and Reponse, are attending Allendale School in Oakland in first grade and kindergarten and are learning English rapidly and even starting to talk to each other in English! Esperance brings them to school every day along with the 2 younger children, Patrick and Simon. Two days a week they attend a pre-school class together for mothers and children. Four days a week Esperance also attends an ESL class at the school. Her progress in written language continues to be very slow, but she is making good progress in learning to speak and understand English.
Our parishioners at Our Lady of Grace have been a huge help to the family. The generous support of parishioners and supporters like you has made their transition to life in the U.S. possible. Through your financial donations, OLG has been able to subsidize their $1500 rent each month – first paying $1000 and now that Gideon is working, paying $750.
Our wonderful parishioners have assisted the family in other ways as well. Those of you who helped furnish their apartment before they moved in gave them a comfortable place to live with attractive furniture and useful household items. Those who donated gift cards and necessities such as diapers and personal care items have helped supplement the limited funds Esperance receives from public assistance. Some of you have given generously of your time to give rides to family members to appointments and outings. Others have helped Esperance with her English, either at their apartment or at the school. Without all of our support, it is hard to imagine how they could have managed on their own.
We are not sure of the family’s plans for the future. They know that soon the OLG funds for rent subsidies will run out, and that minimum wage jobs are not enough to make it financially in this expensive region. So they are considering moving to Akron, Ohio, where Bazirake’s sister lives and the cost of living is much lower. Right now, with the assistance of a pro bono Catholic Charities attorney, we are in the process of helping them to get Green Cards, and they cannot move before this process is complete, which could take several more months.
As your pastor, I am deeply grateful for your generosity to our refugee family. As you have shown so many times before, OLG parishioners always step up to a challenge and give willingly of their time and resources.