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New lives sprout here page 2
New nonprofit hopes to empower area refugees

 Nizigiyimana Danifodi transfers a tomato seedling into the dirt of Munira Marlowe's Spotsylvania County garden.
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Date published: 7/12/2009

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"But we all come together because we have a shared belief," Marlowe said. "That God says to us, 'If you love me, serve my people.'"

As Marlowe stood before her supporters, the odds seemed against her.

She had just lost her income. She had to hitch a ride to her own kickoff party--just days earlier, her vehicle broke down on Interstate 95.

As she ignored the signs of her minivan's impending demise, Marlowe desperately called contacts looking for a donated car--not for herself but for a newly arrived Afghani with a driver's license but no way to get a ride to work.

Her basement had just flooded, too. And she was months behind on her house payments.

The obstacles were stacking up. But so were the needs. Marlowe couldn't go to Wal-Mart without running into refugees asking for help with documents, school meetings, translations.

She couldn't stop by a house in Bragg Hill--the Fredericksburg neighborhood where many newcomers settle--without a refugee family flagging her down with a problem.

"To me, almost every day is a trial, because I could easily get another job and forget about the refugees," Marlowe said. "But I know this is the right thing. I know it's what God wants me to do, and that's why I do it."

BORROWED LAND

With a donated car, Marlowe picks up Jackson and a few other refugees at least twice a week. They work on the garden, teasing each other in English and Swahili.

Jackson and his parents fled their native Burundi when he was 4 years old. It was 1972, the start of a brutal civil war that would simmer and rage for the next three decades.

In the beginning, the Tanzanians were often generous to the refugees. Jackson and his family planted tomatoes, beans and cassava on borrowed land.

The vegetables supplemented their limited diet and income. And gave Jackson a passion and a skill.

Over time, more than 330,000 Burundians piled into neighboring Tanzania--eventually straining the country's resources and its goodwill to the point that the Tanzanian government last month ordered Burundians to return to their own county.

Jackson lived in Tanzania for more than 30 years before learning he would be resettled in America. Through the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, he and his wife and children arrived in Fredericksburg last summer.


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Munira Marlowe has big dreams for her fledgling nonprofit. She'd love to expand her garden, sponsor refugees for job training, have classes in American culture and English for speakers of other languages, host multicultural parties and offer job-search help.

For now the new nonprofit has a long list of needs, including:

15-passenger van

Computers

Drywall

Paint

Volunteers who can provide transportation and help with renovation and teaching.

For details, e-mail munira@imanimulticulturalcenter.org or call 540/308-3730.

The refugees in Fredericksburg have been determined by the U.S. government to face persecution in their home countries on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. They are allowed to live in the United States indefinitely to protect them. Refugees get their status before coming to America, while asylum seekers obtain their status after arrival. Refugees may eventually get green cards.