A Congolese family resettled by the International Institute of New England puts tragedy behind them to rebuild their lives in Lowell
Rose Mukundi Muswumba is a not just a fighter, she is a warrior. A widowed mother of ten, Rose struggled to raise and provide for her children on her own after her husband was killed in their native country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her husband had been investigating human rights violations, and after his death government officials came for Rose and her children, forcing the family to flee to Uganda in 2004.
Rose could not fathom a life free from fear and despair, but she was determined to give a safer life with better opportunities to her children. She endured numerous obstacles to get to the United States; she engineered her escape from the Congo by convincing a man to let her and her children hide among animals in the back of his truck as he drove across the border.
In Uganda, Rose and her children shared a small two-room apartment, but moved from place to place because militia from the Congo continued to pursue them. Her son Rodrigue recalls how there were days when the family had little to eat if they could afford a meal, they saved half the food because they did not know where the next meal would come from.
After many years of a hardscrabble existence, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees referred Rose and her family for resettlement in the United States.
After a lengthy process, the United States government approved their admission, and they arrived in Lowell, Massachusetts in August of 2016.
“I remember being at the airport when the family arrived,” recalled Jennifer Chesnulovitch, an employment specialist with IINE-Lowell. “Although everyone was exhausted from the long trip from Uganda, I watched Rose smile as her children pulled their luggage off the carousel. Like many of our beneficiaries, the smile signaled a combination of relief and hope.”
Shortly after her arrival in Lowell, Rose began attending IINE’s English classes while her children secured work – a role reversal for the natural caregiver. Within months, however, Rose shared that she also wanted to enter the workforce and fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. Chesnulovitch recognized her strength as a nurturer and in January 2017 helped enroll her in a Home Health Aid training at Middlesex Community College. Rose used her advanced English skills to speak at the training’s graduation, highlighting how her dream was becoming true.
Upon completion of the training, Rose worked part-time as a home health aide and enrolled in an advanced Certified Nursing Aide (CNA) training program. Soon she will complete the program and be eligible to work as a Certified Nurse.
“My life is much better in the United States,” Rose said. “I have many more opportunities – I can work, save money, attend trainings, and my children have education. I am free. I am happy again.”