Program offers refugees a weekend with Cape host families

August 13, 2018 The Cape Cod Times
"HARWICH PORT — Five-year-old Divine wasn’t exactly listening to her older sisters, Audrey, 16, and Lixion, 13, or their mother, Severine Mbai, as they all sat at the lunch table in Pamela and David Purdy’s sunroom Saturday.

Since the Worcester-based Mbai family had arrived the day before, they’d spent a day at the beach, seen 30 to 40 seals with a Cape Cod National Seashore ranger, and for lunch on Saturday were making a dent in the sandwich fixings Pamela Purdy had rustled up.

'More sandwich,' Divine whispered to David Purdy, after a few attempts to catch his attention and despite her mother’s frown. 'Peanut butter and jelly.'

Purdy, in turn, was happy to comply.

The French-speaking family is participating in a program launched two years ago by the Nauset Interfaith Association that offers refugee families a free three-day weekend on Cape Cod with volunteer host families. Along with the Mbai family, six other families from Liberia, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all of whom now live in central Massachusetts, were visiting the Cape over the weekend, according to Ken Campbell, the interfaith association’s convener.

'There is no peace,' said Audrey, a 10th-grader who translated questions to her mother in French. 'That’s why our mom decided that we should go.' They left their village in the landlocked Central African Republic in 2008 for neighboring Cameroon, on Africa’s west coast, where they lived for nine years. After applying to move to the U.S., the family waited for four years; they’ve been in the U.S. for about a year, Audrey said.

Their religious faith has been a constant, from Severine’s father, who is a Baptist minister in the Central African Republic, to a church volunteer who helped Severine bring her family to the U.S. Every Sunday the family attends Concordia Lutheran Church in Worcester, where the girls were baptized in May. The family is being aided in their settlement in Worcester by Ascentria Care Alliance, a human service agency originating in the Lutheran church.

'All of these families are hardworking with little if any time or money for a vacation, and very few have an automobile,' Campbell said. Volunteers drive vans provided by Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in Harwich to pick up the families in central Massachusetts and bring them here. The weekend getaway is intended to 'provide an enjoyable weekend for new Americans, all of whom (have) suffered terrible loss and suffering before their arrival in the USA,' Campbell said.

'Since we have come to America, this is our first time to be comfortable and happy,' Audrey said. 'We’re so happy to be here.'

In the U.S., there are struggles and encounters that are unexpected, the two older girls said. On a recent field trip to Boston they’d seen protesters near the Statehouse saying 'black people are not welcome here,' Audrey said. That had upset her, she said.

Their living quarters in Worcester are smaller than they had imagined, the two girls said. First, they were living in an apartment with a few other families, but now, with their mother’s small income, they have been able to move to a two-room house that they have to themselves, the girls said. Lixion laughed as she sat at the Purdy lunch table, in the spacious and historic Harwich Port house just down the road from the beach. 'They told us, this kind of house,' she said. 'That was our dream house.'

Severine had a laugh Saturday when Audrey said people they knew back in the Central African Republic had doubted they were actually at the beach. 'They said, "Wow, can you send us a picture so we can confirm?"'

Severine nodded and smiled. Yes, she’d sent the picture."

The Cape Cod Times. Read the full article here.