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JFCS Immigration Legal Services: Ngongo and Bebe – a Love Story

JFCS Immigration Legal ServicesJFCS Immigration Legal Services: Ngongo and Bebe – a Love Story

Standing at a Pittsburgh airport gate, a man waits to greet his wife. He has a bouquet of flowers and his anticipation is palpable. If this sounds sweet but ho-hum, it is not. This man has not seen his wife in eight years.

Such is the life of many refugees. When I hear the stories about their experiences before they arrived here, I really don’t know how they made it this far. Over and over, I marvel at their courage.

Ngongo is a refugee who escaped the Democratic Republic of Congo after trying to publicize his government’s role in the violence there: the rape and murder of women, burying people alive, and punishing dissent. One of his friends was murdered and another seriously wounded. In fear for his own life, he left.

But he was unable to take his wife Bebe with him. His says that his only comfort was that she was somewhere where she would be safe.

After several years in a refugee camp in Togo, Ngongo was accepted as a refugee, and then arrived in the US, alone, in 2016. Like many other refugees in Pittsburgh, he was welcomed by JFCS, which found him a place to live and a job, as well as providing other newcomer services.

Ngongo works the second shift at TruFoodMfg, a local manufacturer of nutrition and protein bars, chocolate products and baked goods. He takes English classes in the daytime.

But from his first day here, Ngongo wanted Bebe to join him. So he turned to JFCS Immigration Legal Services. Jamie Englert, director of the department, remembers that Ngongo was insistent that the first form to fill out – before his green card application – was a visa request for Bebe.

In the next three years, paperwork and interviews went slowly. Bebe had her first interview at the embassy, and waited for her second appointment which never came. Life grew more dangerous, at one point forcing her to take refuge in a church for a month. Finally Ngongo’s dream came true. On April 9th, there he was at the airport with a bouquet of flowers. And when her plane landed, there she finally was.

The reunion was as touching as you might imagine. All the work done by so many people had finally reunited a family. Walking out of the airport they held hands and spoke together.

Now begins their life, finally together again, in the U.S. There’s lots to do. A few days after Bebe arrived, she and Ngongo appeared at JFCS. They met with job counselors, got a bus pass and practice lesson, got signed up for relevant social services, registered for English classes. Since Ngongo has been here a while, Bebe has good support.

Now in their late 50s, Bebe and Ngongo are not young. But they’re still happy to start over, because they are together and they can live in peace. We at JFCS hear similar stories every day. Refugees leave their homelands to escape danger, violence, war and threats. The road to their new lives is long and often dangerous itself. But their resiliency and determination always remain, no matter what they’ve been through. This is their gift to us: believing in the future.