By Deacon Lucio Caruso
I recently visited Virginie Kalwaye, surrounded by wonderful babies at Catholic Charities, to hear a little more about her life as a migrant. She and her family were refugees for 15 years before resettling here in Louisville in September of 2015.
Now, she works part-time with the children and babies at Catholic Charities’ nursery, while the parents attend English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.
She originally came from the Democratic Republic of Congo where she managed a store. But a war that began in 1995 eventually usurped the safety of everyday life and in the year 2000, at age 28, she and her family fled the area where they lived.
“Before the war, life was good,” she told me. “When the war started in 1995, life became difficult. In 2000, life started to be very bad.”
That’s when she and her family lost everything and became migrants.
They eventually moved to Uganda and lived as refugees there. They did not live in a refugee camp, but life continued to be difficult — neither she nor her husband could find jobs. Adding to their difficulties while living in Uganda, her sister died in an accident and left her small children behind.
The Kalwaye family —mother, father and now seven children — applied for refugee status to the U.S. and the “United States chose us in September 2015,” she said.
When they came to the United States, the entire family was able to travel together. That was a concern because their oldest child was 19 by that time and considered an adult.
The family felt welcomed when they resettled in Louisville and they like both the weather and the people, she said.
“Most people are very kind,” she said. “It is a good life.”
I asked her about the biggest challenge she faced when resettling here.
“Language was a big problem,” she told me. “I had to learn English. My children taught me English.”
Now she works part-time at the ESL nursery and has completed Catholic Charities’ Common Table Culinary Training program.
Her husband currently works at T-Mobile, but would like to find another job. He needs better English to earn a better job.
Their children range in age from a toddler to a college student — a 22-year-old attending JCTC, a 14-year-old in high school, an eighth grader, a seventh grader, a fourth grader, a kindergartner and the little one at home.
Kalwaye said she applied to work at the ESL daycare because she likes babies and taking care of the children while families attend ESL courses.
“Sometimes I only work in the mornings, so I am looking for another job, as we have many bills and many things to pay for,” she noted.
Kalwaye also told me the thing she likes most about Louisville is the food, something she has in common with many of us in Louisville. She told me she would like to visit Florida one day.
I also asked her something more personal: What would be your message to the U.S.?
She answered, “Know that we come here with hope, with wanting something better for our family. Our hope is in our children.” And, “We are feeling insecure with the remarks of the current president,” she added.
As a practicing Catholic and member of Most Blessed Sacrament Church, Kalwaye said she’s found the opportunity to worship harder here than in Africa.
“There is no time to worship here in the United States. Here churches are closed. At home, in my country, churches were open 24 hours a day,” she said. “I could go to church any time during the day. I could go to Mass every morning.”
“Church is where the children learn,” she added. “This is a challenge to not be able to worship as often.”