CongoReform Association wants immigrants, rest of Eastern Iowa to connect

Group's message to African newcomers: 'You are not alone'

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Members of the CongoReform Association pulled up to an apartment on the southwest side of Cedar Rapids Thursday and unloaded a mattress, some blankets, three dining room chairs and a few bags of groceries.

It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

The donations were for a family of six — immigrants originally from Sudan who arrived in Cedar Rapids three weeks ago with no furniture and just enough money for a deposit on an apartment. Abdalgadir Haroun and his wife are still trying to scrape together enough money for their first month’s rent.

But Haroun said they’re happy to be here. For two years, they lived in a refugee camp in Egypt after fleeing fighting in Libya, where they had been living.

He is enrolled in English-language classes at nearby Kirkwood Community College and is trying to get his family on their feet. CongoReform Association members are doing what they can to help.

After dropping off the furniture, they took the family to apply for Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance.

One a month

The association is a group of primarily East African immigrants who have moved to the Corridor. Thousands of people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan and other countries have made Eastern Iowa their home over the past decade.

The U.S. government settled many of these families in larger cities when they first arrived in this country. They then moved to Iowa in search of safe communities with good schools and jobs.

Community members who arrived earlier work together to marshal resources for new arrivals. Boumedien Kasha, CongoReform Association executive director, said the association helps about one newly arrived family each month.

Chairs from home

Sometimes, those resources come from their own homes. The dining room chairs, for example, were brought from association member Byamungu Belton Wendo’s house.

“I just saw they needed them,” he said.

His daughter, Mariam, helped carry a bag of blankets into the family. Inside the bag a card read, “You are not alone.”

Kasha said he’d like the welcoming efforts to expand beyond the African community. To that end, the association is hosting a World Refugee Day celebration in a meeting room at the Coralville Public Library June 20.

The event, titled, “With Courage Let Us All Combine,” is meant to help build community between immigrants and their new neighbors, he said.

The celebration will include dances from African countries represented in the Corridor along with other performances and speeches from community members about their experiences as refugees.

The event is free and open to the public.

World Refugee Day, organized by the United Nations Refugee Agency, is marked internationally to raise awareness about the plights of refugees.

“All over the world people are celebrating and supporting refugees,” Kasha said. “We want to celebrate our freedoms that we have here.”

If you wish to help

  • What: World Refugee Day celebration
  • Where: Coralville Public Library, 1401 Fifth St., Coralville
  • When: 9:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 20
  • More information: Call Boumedien Kasha at (319) 202-0610 or Tom Sandersfeld at (319) 521-4633
  • Donate: The CongoReform Association is a 501(c) 3 registered not-for-profit and is seeking donations to help new arrivals. Donations can be directed to the CongoReform Association account at U.S. Bank.

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