Column: Refugees: a way to welcome Christ in the stranger

by Jan Lewis

“My name is Zawadi Daniel and I was born in Burundi.” Burundi is a nation located adjacent to Rwanda in central Africa.

“In Burundi, the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups were fighting, killing each other, and it wasn’t safe for me and my family,” said Daniel.

Racial tensions between the Hutus and the Tutsis developed over a century of unequal treatment during a period of colonization. Eventually, the situation erupted into violence in 1959.

“I left Burundi in 1972 with my parents. I was a little girl,” said Daniel. “We relocated to Tanzania and lived in temporary shelter there.”

The violence hit the world stage in 1994, when over a period of 100 days, nearly 800,000 Rwandans were massacred. In Burundi, similar horrors were carried out, with 150,000 killed over several years. Hundreds of thousands fled their countries and sought refuge in Tanzania.

“I lived in different places — an apartment, a tent in a refugee camp, with friends from 1972 until 2007 — when I came to America to escape the violence,” she added.

Each year, the president of the United States authorizes the admission of a certain number of refugees into the country. This determination is based on a consultative process between Congress, the president and various federal agencies. In recent years, the United States has accepted between 50,000 to 75,000 refugees per year. Resettling refugees provides an extraordinary opportunity for Catholics to take an active part in “welcoming Christ in the face of a stranger.”

Daniel was one of the lucky ones. She lived. And after 35 years in exile, she was resettled by the U.S. government working through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and was given the chance of a new life right here in Kansas. She cares for a young niece and nephew, ages 10 and 13, and is working to support her little family through Catholic Charities’ New Roots for Refugees program.

Today you can find Daniel working a small plot of land on an urban farm in Kansas City, Kan., where she grows vegetables which are sold at local area farmers’ markets.

“In Tanzania, I grew sweet potatoes, corn, eggplant, amaranth, and peanuts,” said Daniel. “In the United States, my favorite vegetables to grow and sell are lettuce, spinach and amaranth. I love farming and growing healthy vegetables for my customers.”

If you would like to meet Daniel, you can find her and her table of fresh produce at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and the Northeast Farmers’ Market on Fridays. She is one of 17 “farmers,” all survivors of similar atrocities and persecution, working hard to put the past behind them and fresh food on their — and your — table. For more information, visit the Catholic Charities Web site at: www.catholiccharitiesks.org.

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