(Plain Press, October 2017) The International Village Festival held at the Michael Zone Recreation Center on September 17th featured storytelling, sharing of cultural foods and entertainment.
Esther Ngemba, now a high school student at St. Joseph Academy, was one of the storytellers sharing her story with those in attendance. Ngemba recalled the violence in the Congo that prompted her family to leave. She said fearing the atrocities committed by the Congolese soldiers, her parents hid her sister in a blanket and her mother held her tightly in her arms. One of the soldiers tried to pull her from her mother’s arms, and, in the process, broke her right elbow. Ngemba says the elbow has never healed right.
When her family fled the Congo to Uganda, Ngemba says they had nothing. She remembers being with her siblings and being “so hungry” while her parents went to search for a place for them to live.
Ngemba says her father tried hard to find them a place to go to school in Uganda. In school, Ester Ngemba says she learned to speak English and Uganda’s language as well. She said the toughest part was walking the three miles from their home to the school.
Esther Ngemba says she and her family were resettled in Cleveland in 2011 by Catholic Charities Refugee Services. Esther said she attended Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy for only a few months, and then moved on from there to Metro Catholic School because she already knew English. When she graduated from Metro Catholic she was accepted at St. Joseph Academy.
Esther Ngemba says both St. Joseph Academy and her church, the United Church of Christ, have encouraged her to be a speaker addressing the Refugee Crisis. She noted the booth she set up at the International Village that contained many pictures of refugees. She said when people see the pictures, they can view refugees as people. “Human beings hoping to be welcomed – children and women hoping for a safe place to call home,” she said.
Following the storytelling, two young Congolese men, who grew up as refugees in Uganda, entertained the crowd with their dancing. The brothers, Jonas and Esai PiliPili, who call their group Holy Dance, displayed their acrobatic skills and dancing skills that they learned as refugees in Uganda.