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Refugees find homes in Vermont

Merida Ntirampeba (in blue) poses with family and friends in Vermont. She is a native of Berundi. Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban Merida Ntirampeba (in blue) poses with family and friends in Vermont. She is a native of Berundi.
According to the Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30, 2016, 386 refugees arrived in Vermont. The largest numbers came from Bhutan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
Merida Ntirampeba was alone with a six-month-old baby while the terror of the Berundi war exploded around them. She had already placed her three older children in what she hoped were safe places then went into hiding with her young daughter.
Her fear was exacerbated when the child got a cold and her coughing could give away their location. Ntirampeba knew the soldiers were looking to kill them.
But God blessed them with a woman who hid them in her home, gave Ntirampeba  her own clothing so she would not be recognized and saved their lives.
“She was doing it for the love of God, and I want to repay God” for such life-saving assistance, said Ntirampeba, now of Winooski who attends St. Francis Xavier Church.  “Many people would have just saved themselves.”
Now Ntirampeba volunteers with the CARES Catholic Network. “My life is to help somebody,” she said.
Dan Nguyen was born in 1937 and baptized in her native North Vietnam. But in 1952 her family moved to South Vietnam, and lived in a village there during the war.
She and members of her family – including her nine children – left Vietnam for the Thailand in 1979, arriving in Montpelier the following year, with the help of Catholic and other church organizations.
“It was a nightmare in Vietnam,” she said solemnly.
She escaped in a boat with 65 other people aboard, nothing to eat. “We kept praying and praying,” she said, noting that for most of the five days she was onboard all there was was “heaven and water, nothing else to see.”
Except for the pirates that robbed the refugees. “Thank God they did not do anything with the women,” she said. “God helped us, and we got through that.”
She is thankful to live in Montpelier, a parishioner of St. Augustine Church. “I thank God for everything I have,” she said, and she shows that gratitude by going to Mass, attending a prayer group and volunteer to serve a lunch at the church for people in need.
“The church helped me a lot,” she said. That included seven of her children attending Catholic school at no cost to her and Thanksgiving baskets when food was not plentiful. She sees such assistance as miracles.
“People here are very loving. They treat me like family,” Nguyen said.
Aline Mukiza was born in Burundi and twice fled the civil war there, first in 1993 and again in 1996. Both times she went to Tanzania; she arrived in Vermont in 2009.
Born and raised Catholic, the parishioner of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington said her faith has helped her throughout her life, especially when she was facing the horrors of civil war.
She remembers when she was nine, being alone with her 5-year-old brother, wondering what was going to happen to them but having the hope that God was always with her. “I had no idea where I was going, but I always thought Jesus never forsakes people and God sees us wherever we are,” she said.
With a personal devotion to the Blessed Mother, she often prayed the Hail Mary and the rosary. “Mary help us,” was a frequent prayer. “Just the name of Mary and Jesus is really strong. That belief helped us survive.”
With an unwavering faith, Mukiza said that after years in a refugee camp she feels free and accepted as a citizen here.
And she considers her life in Vermont part of God’s plan for her. “God has something He wants me to do,” she said.
She sends money to extended family in Burundi where $20 or $50 goes a long way in providing food. “I feel like they eat that day because I’m here,” she said. “Whatever I have here, it’s good to share with others.”
Last modified onSaturday, 14 January 2017 15:38
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