Posted by: Robin A. Edgar | April 2, 2012

The Mastaki Family Needs Your Help

Mastaki Family Fund

In 2005, I met a lovely 26 year-old woman who was political refugee from the Congo. She introduced herself saying, “My name is Riziki, but you can call me Rachel.” Intrigued by her story about how she came to America, I wrote two articles about her for the Charlotte Observer, one about how thankful she was to be here and the other about her journey to become a US citizen so she could visit her family after over a ten-year separation.

As I learned about the horrors she has overcome and what a special person she is, we become close friends. She recently came to me for help because, with the recent uprisings in the Congo, her family lives in daily economic and physical jeopardy. I have joined her in her quest to bring them to safety. Here is her story:

Born in Goma, Congo in 1978, Riziki grew up in a “middle class” family. Her father, Dominique Mastaki, owned a thriving computer repair shop and had managed to save money for retirement and to send his 12 children elementary and secondary school. After the war, the family business and was destroyed and her father, with no other source of income, has had to use all of his savings to provide food and repair the family home for his extended family.

In 1999, Riziki was forced to flee Goma and became a political refugee in Kenya (she had been raped at 14 years-old and required by tradition to marry a man who had worked for the former dictator). Leaving her parents and siblings behind, she was relocated to North Carolina. After a year and a half of living with her abusive husband without her family’s protection, she went to a battered woman’s shelter and obtained a divorce. Since she only spoke Swahili and French, she attended classes at CPCC to learn English so she could get a job. To support herself and send money home to her family, she worked three jobs at a time when necessary.

You may marvel at her fortitude, but Riziki is a woman who endures. Visiting friends in Rwanda the day the Hutu Genocide began in 1994, she took a bus back to Goma when they called for an evacuation. Her bus was stopped at the border by the Hutu and she was forced to lie face down on the floor and listen as others were questioned and then shot in the head if they were thought to be Tutsi. When it was her turn, the guards said she did not look Tutsi so they spared her life. When the rebel forces invaded the Congo to overthrow Mobutu Seseseko, they went from house to house in Goma, killing and raping the inhabitants. She and her family stood outside their home, to face the aggressors, but by some miracle, they passed them by.

Because of the ongoing danger and poor economic conditions in Goma, which is close to the Rwanda border, other Mastaki family members have tried to leave, but it has not been easy for them. After her husband was shot, one sister fled Goma is now relocated in France. A younger brother has received paperwork to attend college in France. Things did not go so well for another sister who died at 19-year old in 2005 due to the unsanitary conditions while was staying in the refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya for four years.

Another brother, who had been kidnapped to be a child soldier at 15 years-old during the first uprising was with her when she died, but left the camp to return home. A trained videographer, the 30 year-old was working for a Goma news station and living with another brother who was killed in his bed in Goma in January 2012. Recently chased by rebels while going to the market in Goma, he was shot in the leg. Fearing that he would endanger other family members, he fled to Nairobi with their 22 year-old sister to try, once again, to seek refuge in America or another country. Although they show up at 5:00 am and wait in line until closing time at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they have yet to even get through the door, let alone be assigned to a UN case worker to find them a safe place to go as refugees.

Rather than risk having her brother and sister stay in the unsanitary conditions at the refugee camp while they wait, Riziki sends them money (about $200 a month) to live in a one-room apartment in Nairobi. Although they can remain there legally, they are not permitted to work for pay and rely on Riziki to send them funds for food and housing.

Their 36 year-old sister, a pastor who was shot during an attempted rape last year, recently joined them when the rebels tried to break into their house in Goma again.  She came with her husband, a high school teacher and pastor who was shot trying to protect her from the rebels, and three of their children. Their 24 year-old brother came with them, too.

Now that she is a U.S. citizen, Riziki is able to bring her parents over as immigrants. She has already paid an immigration lawyer over $900 to arrange a visa and passport to bring her 64 year-old father to the United States. She still needs to raise about $2,000 to pay for his travel to the airport in Kishasa and his plane fare to the US. A fellow African who manages a warehouse in Charlotte arranged a job interview for her father so he can support himself and help to raise funds for his wife, Josephine, to come over as an immigrant. Then they can bring the other six children who are under 21 (three of whom were adopted when their parents were killed).

These funds, as well as money that she sends to feed and house her family that remains in Goma, come from what Riziki can spare from her wages and from any support from her friends. Please join our efforts to provide food and housing for the Mastaki family members in the Congo and those living in Kenya and going through the refugee process of getting permission to come to the US or another safe country.

My 99 year-old friend often reminds me, “It can’t be so bad that it can’t be worse for someone else.” Although you may have had to tighten your belt during this recent economic downturn, please join me in helping the Mastaki family find a safe place to live.

Please contact Riziki if you can help at rachelmastaki@yahoo.com.

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