Stories of Change

Sharon Riungu (right) with Shulin Chuba at Heathrow Airport during a layover. Photo: Sharon Riungu.

RSC Africa Staff and Their Mission to Help Our New Neighbors

As Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, huge numbers of Afghans rushed to find a way to leave Afghanistan and seek safety elsewhere. Tens of thousands came to the United States through Operation Allies Welcome. It became an all-hands-on-deck situation to welcome these new Afghan neighbors into our communities.

When the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration reached out asking for support, our team at Resettlement Support Center Africa was ready to help. RSC Africa helps refugees from across Sub-Saharan Africa resettle to the United States. They interview refugees, walk them through the different checks and screenings, and offer Cultural Orientation classes to help refugees feel more at home in their new communities. The RSC leadership carefully selected and created a team of staff members with robust processing expertise to assist in the operation. This team rapidly deployed from Nairobi to military bases in the United States.

Just like superheroes, our team flew in as fast as they could. One of the staff members, Sharon Kinyanjui shared, “the deployment started on a high note and the travel itself was as turbulent as it was illuminating. I now understand why some people run through the airports during layovers because I found myself running too. Luckily, I did not miss any of the connecting flights.” 

Unlike superheroes, however, our team did not wear capes. Instead, they wore thick jackets, hats and gloves as they braced themselves for weather very different from what they were used to. As Nairobi was heading into spring, the staff entered the United States in time for fall. Sharon Riungu recounts, “at one time, while I was out doing posters in the villages (this is what we call the building/tents where the refugees are accommodated), I couldn’t feel my toes. For a second, I really thought they would just fall off in my shoes. I have seen such cases in movies to understand well that this can happen.” 

Despite the cold, our team was eager to get to work. Alice Kamakil was deployed to Wisconsin where she worked at the Guest Services Offices where Afghan arrivals could come with questions, updates and/or concerns regarding their cases. “We would call in various specialists to counsel distraught guests or guests with protection needs. This was a humbling experience as I saw first-hand the effects of displacement and the perseverance of the guests as they waited to be resettled,” Alice shared. Another staff member, Boaz Ngoye, shared that his main assignment in Virginia was “advising applicants about where they would be resettled and what benefits they would receive from the U.S. government.”

Throughout the six weeks that they were deployed, our team stayed energized by their mission. Charles Mwamba remarked, “I felt motivated in knowing that I was not merely working on data and numbers, but was keeping the guests moving to safety in the United States.” He also shared that, “the happiest days were when guests received their IOM [International Organization for Migration] bags ready for travel [to the communities where they would be resettled] with a mixture of excitement and hope clear in their eyes. There also were the not so happy days when guests received news that their travel had been postponed for one reason or another, or when things did not go as they expected.” Like many of the other staff members, Charles recognized “the remarkable resilience of the guests as they shared their hopes, fears and concerns.” 

In her blog, Sharon Riungu wrote, “we are forever in awe of being part of this amazing mission.” Similarly, Sharon Kinyanjui said, “this experience was life-changing and affirmed that our work really matters.” Here at CWS, we are proud to have a team full of motivated change-makers who dedicate their work to making the world a safer, kinder and more welcoming place for all.