Helping refugees resettle in Chicago

by RefugeeOne
Desire's family

Desire arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on April 17, 2012, exhausted from the flight and over a decade of turmoil in his home country of The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). With him were his wife, Alphonsine, and their six children.  As expected, the family was apprehensive about resettling in their new home; the life that they led before coming to Chicago left them with years of uncertainty.

In October of 1996, a brutal conflict was waged in the DRC between ethnic militias and the government.  The rebels began coercing men to fight in the vicious civil war. 

Often, those who didn’t join them were killed.  In 1997, Desire – who refused to become a rebel solider – and his wife were forced to flee from their home by foot.  They walked toward Tanzania for 3 days, seeking asylum in the neighboring country.  Along with them were other townspeople, his elderly mother, brothers and sisters, and his wife’s family.  Once they crossed the border, they were welcomed into the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp by UNHCR.   

Life in the camp was challenging.  Many died from illness and inadequate medical care.  Provided with limited space, Desire built a small 25ft by 15ft hut, using cut wood they collected themselves.  For a year, he and his wife grew idle with little work to do.  But his 15 years of education – and his prior occupation at a non-profit organization fundraising for disadvantaged children – would prove useful in the camp.  When a secondary school was opened in Nyarugusu, Desire was hired as a teacher, giving lessons on economics and finance.  This new position allowed him to supplement the meager food rations they received.  Despite the rough conditions, it was in the camp that all six of their children were born.  

Upon his realization that the situation in the DRC was worsening, in 2002 he met with UNHCR officials to request asylum in another country.  It wasn’t until eight years later in 2010 that the eight-member family was told they would be considered for resettlement. Though unsure of what to expect, Desire rejoiced in the good news.  They would finally be leaving their misery behind.  It was only one day before leaving Tanzania that Desire and his family found out they would be going to Chicago.

When greeted at the airport by RefugeeOne staff and a co-sponsor group from the Yale University Alumni Club of Chicago, his anxieties began to subside.  He was overcome with, of all things, courage.  Courage to begin his first job, English and ensure his children have a chance at an excellent education.                

As the doors to their new apartment swung open, they were taken aback.  They were no longer cramped together in the make-shift shelter they had lived in for 15 years, but were surrounded by the warmth indicative of a real home.  The house, replete with all the necessities to start over, including clothes, furniture, and toys for the children, was more than they could have asked for.  Desire and his family are endlessly grateful for the compassion that was, and continues to be shown by the Yale Alumni Club and RefugeeOne staff.

He is eager to begin his calm and conflict-free life.  Once they settle in, Desire plans on accepting the first job offered to him.  He dreams of continuing his education and providing a good life for his children.  When asked if he wants to return home one day, he quickly replies “no,” and states that this is his country now.   


Mohamed Kabiro’s Story

Once a successful fisherman catching over 600 pounds of fish a day in the coastal city of Baraawe, Somalia, Mohamed Kabiro never imagined how greatly his world would change in the upcoming years.

In 1991 a union of armed clan groups brought the long-standing military government of Mohamed’s home country down. After the fall of the military dictatorship in Somalia, different groups began competing for power and soon after a civil war broke out.

During the war he was separated from his family. Alone and fearing for his safety, Mohamed got on his fishing boat and fled to the city of Mombasa in the neighboring country of Kenya. He received warm greetings in Kenya and relocated to Barawan Refugee camp. The camp was well funded by international organizations and food was plentiful, Mohamed felt welcomed. He knew that when it came to his fate—he had been luckier than many others from his village. After seven years, Mohamed was surprised to learn he was being relocated due to the closing of Barawan Refugee Camp.

He was moved almost 1,000 miles away to Kakuma Refugee camp, a camp where conditions were considerably worse. Mohamed remembers his time at Kakuma as very difficult. Donor support was scarce because of the many conflicts going on all around the world. When asked about his daily struggle in Kakuma he replied, “There were shortages of food, and water was very scarce.” Kakuma refugee camp also struggles with the spread of communicable diseases and malaria. During his 12-year stay Mohamed spent his time as a sanitation worker, trying to help keep the camp safe and clean.

During the summer of 2012 he received news that he had been approved for resettlement in the United States. Although he felt nervous about moving to an unknown place alone, Mohamed was yearning for a fresh start. He arrived in Chicago on July 10, 2012.  Having spent the majority of his life in refugee camps he cannot even begin to express how grateful he is to be here.

Within two months Mohamed secured a job. He thanks RefugeeOne for helping him to get settled and providing him with the tools to start his journey off on the right foot. Mohamed feels very lucky to be in this country. With that luck he feels, comes a responsibility to help the people in his country who were not as fortunate as he was. Mohamed’s dream is to give back to Somalia. He hopes to work hard and save enough money, to send back relatives, who are still suffering in the refugee camps. Mohamed is so thankful for all the help he has received during an uncertain time of transition. After 20 long years, Mohamed turns the page to a new chapter in his life, ready and excited for the future.

Your support of this project helps us to continue serving refugees like Mohamed who are resettled in the Chicagoaland area.


Through RefugeeOne’s Youth Program, refugee youth are provided with the resources they need to successfully transition into their new surroundings. Our dedicated staff serve as liaisons between refugee families and schools, helping families to understand school policies, accompanying them to registration and the first day of school, acting as emergency contacts, and providing parenting workshops to address topics that affect children’s academic performance. They arrange separate report card pickup times for refugee families and accompany families to the school with interpreters to ensure that parents understand their child’s academic progress.

During the school year, the Youth Program offers an after-school program that allows students to receive one-on-one homework help and ESL tutoring from staff and volunteers; participate in team-building and conflict resolution games; and enjoy extra-curricular activities such as art, music, and athletics. The after-school program also includes occasional field trips to local cultural institutions.

In the summer months, ESL activities, art, music, and athletics are offered through a six-week summer camp, allowing our youth to experience subject areas that are not always available to them in their schools.

Throughout the year, the Youth Program also hosts several special events, one of which is a Back-to-School Party in August where youth and their families are invited to celebrate the beginning of a new school year.  All youth receive new backpacks and school supplies donated by varying individuals, congregations, and organizations.  We are currently collecting school supplies and backpacks for our Back-To-School Backpack Drive until August 5. 

With a small donation, you can provide a refugee youth with the tools needed to navigate through school successfully.  For more information on our youth program click here.  To learn more about our Back-To-School Backpack Drive, click here.


Imagine what the impact would be if everyone in your family DID ONE THING, if everyone at your workplace DID ONE THING, if everyone on your block DID ONE THING, and if everyone at your school DID ONE THING

We at RefugeeOne are asking you to DO ONE THING in honor of the globally celebrated World Refugee Day.  World Refugee Day was instituted in 2001 by UNHCR to raise awareness to the plight of millions of refugees worldwide who were forced to flee their homes.  Though the official day is June 20, the occasion is marked throughout the week and often during the entire month of June.

Starting a new life in an unfamiliar environment can be daunting.  For families who escape the perilous conditions in their native countries, establishing a new home is the first step toward achieving normalcy.  RefugeeOne’s DO ONE THING campaign seeks to provide refugee families resettled by our agency with fundamental household items for their first American home.  Doing so will help empower these families so that they may begin to lead new lives of dignity and self-sufficiency. With your gift, you will help us reach our World Refugee Day goal of raising $25,000 to help welcome 10 refugee families to the U.S.

Imagine. By donating $20, you can provide a family of four with a set of dishes or silverware.  By donating $75, warm blankets and pillows can be purchased for a family of four to get them through a Chicago winter.

Become a part of our campaign. Make a difference, spread the word, and DO ONE THING.   

Click here for more information on our  DO ONE THING campaign.



Thang Tung Pau arrived at O’Hare on July 5, 2011.  In Burma, he worked on his family’s farm until he was targeted for forced labor and torture for not joining the military.  Fortunately, he escaped the country and found temporary safety in a refugee camp in Malaysia. Pau, even in Burma, shared many of the ideals that we Americans hold so dear:  self-reliance, courage, and determination to take advantage of every opportunity that comes his way.  Restricted to the camp, he taught himself English in order to get a jump start should he be resettled in an English-speaking country.

By last November – just four short months after stepping off the plane – Pau was working as a janitor at a gym in the Gold Coast. He is also active in the Burmese community and volunteers to help translate for newly arriving Burmese refugees. He also began a 3-month/240-hour program at Progressive Truck Driving School.  After completing the course, Pau will take the commercial drivers license test, and enroll in Progressive’s job placement service.

When asked why he wanted to drive a truck, Pau simply replied, “I like to drive”. He drove a dump truck for the jade mine so he is used to handling large vehicles.  He added, “Since I arrived in the United States, in my mind, I’ve been thinking about my future.  For me, the only way to earn more money is to be a truck driver.  My English is not good and I don’t have [an American] education.”

He then remembered his wife and daughter, still in Burma.  He wants to make more money so he will have a nice home when they arrive.  Pau’s wife works the family farm and, although she has been questioned about his whereabouts, remains safe.  He hopes they will join him by the end of the year.

Pau is living RefugeeOne’s mission to “create opportunities to build new lives of safety, dignity and self-reliance.”  At the same time, he is also breathing new life into the American Dream. 

 Help Pau, and other refugees like him, reach their American Dream with your donation. 

Burma Map
Burma Map



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Organization Information


Location: Chicago, IL - USA
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Kim Snoddy
Chicago, IL United States
$49,861 raised of $80,000 goal
442 donations
$30,139 to go
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