“We started the process when I was in sixth grade, and we came over when I was in eleventh”, Celestin recounts, describing the long process his family went through to be resettled from a refugee camp in Rwanda to the United States. When Celestin was five years old, his mother, Marie, had made the difficult decision to flee her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was in the grips of the deadliest conflict in history since WWII, and search for safety for her five sons in the small neighboring country of Rwanda.
They would spend a total of 17 years living in the camp. “It’s a community where everyone has pretty much the same life,” Celestin says. “There’s not much to learn. If you’re going to learn anything, it’s from your neighbor, who doesn’t have much to share.” Despite these difficulties, Celestin managed to excel academically during his time there. He was 1 of 5 students chosen out of 19,000 to advance on to high school level studies.
When Celestin was in eleventh grade, Marie found out that, after a five-year waiting period, her and her sons would be moving to the United States through the Refugee Resettlement Program. After spending almost their entire lives within the camp, the entire family was overwhelmed by the kindness of the Americans waiting for them in their new country, “People were waiting for us to take us to our apartment which was set up with furniture, kitchen items, and groceries. I couldn’t believe that they were doing this for us and they didn’t even know us.”
During the first few years of their life in the United States, all six members of the family shared a small three-bedroom apartment. But now that his two older brothers are moving out on their own, and Celestin is completing his computer engineering degree at UNCC, he wants to ensure that himself, his mother, and two younger brothers, Jean and Prince, are able to plan for the future.
After living without one for so long, Celestin knows that a home is the foundation for a stable life. “You would never plan for anything if you don’t have a place to live – so you have to have a place to call home first to think about something else.”
Marie and Celestin applied and were approved for a Greater Matthews Habitat home, and quickly began completing their sweat equity hours on others homes. Celestin laughs about the hours he has already spent on the build site. “At the beginning, I didn’t know how to do anything. But the Building Committee – Walter and Dick, they taught me from the bottom up. Then I was all the way up on the roof!”
This fall, we will break ground on their new home. This home will give Celestin and his family the opportunity they have been waiting for by building a stable future for generations to come. This will be our 114th home in the Greater Matthews community and our second 2-story home. This is our 2020 Sandy Memorial Women’s Build, which we do in memory of a former GMHFH staff member who passed away from breast cancer. Sandy served as our Family Services Coordinator and met with Celestin and his family when they first came to Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity.