Ghilslaine’s account of events:
“At Entebbe International Airport, I met the Congolese family of one mother and seven children that I was to escort to Erie (Pennsylvania), as well as two young Eritreans who were going to Dayton (Ohio). All together, we would make the journey to Newark.
Florida and Faunel, the 16 and 17 year-olds from Eritrea, had fled their country and walked for one day and two nights to get to Ethiopia. Later, they were welcomed by a refugee camp in Uganda. Upon leaving Entebbe, Florida broke down in tears. This journey meant another separation for her, this time with her friends from the camp with whom she had grown so close after sharing years of her life with them. I took her in my arms.
Aboard the plane, the children were captivated with the in-flight video.
Our stopover in Newark
Florida and Faunel were going to Dayton to find their parents and the brothers and sisters with whom they had been separated. They had not seen their mother in a year and a half and their father in three. They both hoped to become doctors: I do not doubt for a second that they will succeed. The embrace they gave me as they left moved me deeply and I promised to think of them. I will never forget them.
As for the Congolese family, this meant the start of a long wait before their journey to Erie. The children made the most of their time by making new discoveries: they were fascinated by the escalator. I took them, one by one, to test out the staircase that climbed all by itself. They were wild with joy.
After flight cancellations and two nights in a Newark hotel, the journey finally took place aboard a chauffeured minibus to Erie, taking 9 hours and 35 minutes. The children were very well-behaved and spent the time singing, playing or sleeping. You could see the happiness on their faces and Charlotte, mother of the family, was smiling too.
Our arrival in Erie
The end of the road… that’s where the family’s new ground-floor apartment was to be found, with another Congolese family living just above. As such, Charlotte would not be isolated by the language barrier and could receive help from the other family: a very reassuring addition.
The house was big: nine beds spread across three rooms, a living room, and a kitchen-diner already stocked with food. The fridge was full and two people from the International Organisation for Migrants (IOM) who had come to welcome the family had prepared dinner.
I was lucky enough to share the family’s first night in their new residence. Everything was new: the bed sheets, the duvets, the pillows and the bath towels. All the beds were made and the family was provided with big bags full of clothing. As soon as they arrived, the children made straight for the toys that had been left for them. The atmosphere was one of exhilaration, joy and excitement.
I went out to check that nothing was forgotten in the minibus and found one of the twins who had dozed off on the back seat. In all the excitement, nobody had noticed his absence. I had barely put him down in the living room before he rushed towards the toys: everything was ok!
First bath in the new house
One more joy to be shared with the children and the last for me.
An amazing adventure, full of emotions and discoveries: hot and cold water, using a shower, toilets, soap dispensers, paper, bins, electric hand dryers, television…
The brand new life that the whole family had hoped so much for.”