An Incredible Journey:
CWS volunteers Suzanne Colton (above, left) and Therese Murray (above, right) had the opportunity to meet with Zita Solange (above, middle), a refugee from the Central African Republic, who was recently resettled in Durham by CWS. Like many refugees fleeing persecution, Zita became separated from her family, through the conflict in CAR and began the long process of waiting for her case to be approved for resettlement to the United States. To reunite the family, CWS is helping Zita apply for her husband and mother to come to the United States. Here, Zita tells us her story.
Zita left Central African Republic (CAR), her native country, in December 2003 after her village was destroyed because of political instability and armed conflict. She left on foot with her then two children, ages six and three, and her younger sister, spending three days in the bush. Zita was part of a group of two hundred people trying to reach the CAR-Chad border. They did not know the route to Chad so they followed a river northward. Her children’s father had already left CAR with his family, as he lived in a different village. After arriving at the border, they were met by United Nations staff, and taken by bus to the Maro Refugee Camp.
Zita and her family were then transferred to a second camp, the Yaroungou Camp, where they were reunited with the children’s father. Their third child, Divine (pictured above, to Zita’s right), was born in 2004. Life in the refugee camp was organized around building shelter, growing food, and attending school. Health services were also available in the camp. Food rations were delivered monthly, consisting of rice, salt, oil, and other staples. But, Zita explains, there was no milk. Each family received production kits to help with agriculture and increase self-reliance. Zita had a plot of land on which she grew food for the family. During the dry season Zita also built a mud brick shelter to replace the temporary tent they had been living in.
Zita never lost an opportunity to move forward in her life and advocate for her family’s livelihood. While in the camp, in addition to attending to all of her family’s needs, Zita went to school and obtained her Bac (high school diploma). In 2007, she won a scholarship to attend a university in Yaounde, the capital of neighboring Cameroon. There, she studied administrative secretarial work, from 2007 to 2010, while her children stayed with their father and paternal grandparents. Unfortunately, the children’s father died from disease in 2009 while Zita was completing her studies in Cameroon, so she did not get the chance to see him again or say goodbye.
When Zita returned to the refugee camp in 2010, she taught French in the camp school during the mornings, and worked in the field in the afternoons. Her salary was the equivalent of $15 per month, but she was not allowed to work outside the camp because she was not a Chadian citizen.
In October 2012, disaster struck. The Yaroungou Camp flooded, destroying over 85% of rice and corn crops, and all of refugees in Yaroungou had to be relocated to nearby Belom Camp, which was situated on higher ground. Zita’s mother arrived in the camp from CAR in 2013, and Zita was overjoyed to be reunited with her after 10 years apart.
At Belom Camp, Zita met her current husband, Guy. He was working as a driver and was a Chadian national, not a refugee like Zita living in the camp. They were married on March 16, 2014 in a civil ceremony conducted by the mayor. As tradition required, Guy’s parents gave the dowry money to Zita’s mother and uncles. From this point on, Guy lived with Zita and her children in the camp.
When Zita began the process to come to the United States, she and Guy had not yet married. Initially, Zita was scheduled to leave Chad in September 2013 but her case was delayed for a year. Finally, on September 23rd, 2014, Zita, then six months pregnant, and her three children arrived in the U.S. In total, Zita had spent eleven years in refugee camps. After a nine day trip through N’Djamena, Istanbul, New York City, she finally arrived in Raleigh-Durham.
With the help of CWS, Zita now lives in a two bedroom apartment in Durham. She and her children enjoy and appreciate the peace, safety, and comfort of her apartment and surrounding community. Compared to living in Cameroon’s capital, Durham doesn’t seem very large to her, but everything is new. Zita has learned how to take the bus and use the new appliances in her apartment’s kitchen. She is also attending English classes at CWS. Zita has recently started a working at the new 21 C Museum Hotel in downtown Durham, a job which CWS helped her to find, and she also cleans houses for Durham families on the side. Her three oldest children, ages 17, 14 and 10, attend local schools.
However, Zita finds it very hard to remain separated from her mother and new husband. He is living with his parents in Chad while waiting to be reunited with her. They miss each other very much, especially since Guy has not seen their new baby daughter, Samantha (pictured above, in Zita’s arms) who was born on December 13, 2014. Zita and Guy talk on the phone regularly and send pictures back and forth. Living as a single mother in a new country is difficult for Zita, although she feels grateful to be here and proud of her new daughter’s American citizenship, the first in her family. Zita is having to balance finding childcare for the baby, while working to provide the necessary income for rent and living expenses for her family. But she is excited and optimistic.
Zita named her new baby Samantha in honor of her CWS Case Manager, Samantha Kubik . Zita said she was inspired by Samantha’s courage and the help Samantha had given to her family as their caseworker. Zita says she wants her daughter to grow up to be “as courageous and open-hearted as Samantha Kubik.”
As we listened to Zita’s story, it was hard for us to truly imagine her changes under such dire conditions. We were struck by Zita’s resilience and courage, as well as how CWS is helping Zita to adjust to life in the United States. It was also obvious that Zita is driven by her deep desire to provide a better life for her children, and we are delighted to see her succeeding.
Zita’s story was compiled by CWS Volunteers Suzanne Colton and Therese Murray, who interviewed Zita in French. Both have been volunteering regularly with CWS since 2014. Therese, a native of France, taught French for 38 years, and she and her husband recently moved from Houston to Raleigh after retiring. Suzanne taught French and ESL for 35 years, and also volunteered with World Relief’s refugee resettlement program in the Chicago area. After retiring, Suzanne and her husband also recently moved to Raleigh.
As a fundraiser for CWS’s family reunification campaign, which helps refugees like Zita apply for their spouses, children, and parents, CWS staff, volunteers, and refugees are invited to participate in the Great Human Race this Saturday, March 28th at 8:00 AM at Northgate Mall in Durham. Runners can register for the race starting at 6:45 AM day-of; walkers can join the group for free! The CWS team will gather at 7:30 AM around the starting line (near Sears Automotive) to run/walk together. Please contact Kelly Chauvin for more information at (919) 641-0377 or KChauvin@cwsglobal.org. Donations to CWS through the Great Human Race campaign can be made here.