Newton parish helps refugee family settle in Boston

ROXBURY -- Mujahid Komi sat informally on one of the cushioned chairs in his living room, Oct. 6. He looked comfortable. His wife, Huda Komi, sat across from him, smiling. Their apartment, a beautiful, spacious space in Roxbury, was warm, and the sun shone in from the windows and shined off the hardwood floors.

Listening closely, the sounds of little feet running across those floors could be heard, as their three boys raced around the apartment, playing games on their parents' smartphones and scuffling with each other.

Although the Komi family had only been in the apartment for about a month and in the United States for about a month and a half, many memories had been made. And already, their new apartment, their new house, had the look a real home.

The Komi family arrived in the U.S. as refugees on Aug. 22 from Egypt, where they had been living for more than 4 years after fleeing their home country of Sudan. They had originally lived in the Nuba Mountains, an area in South Kordofan, Sudan, and fled to the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, in an attempt to escape the civil wars that have ravaged much of the country for years. They found the capital was not much better and eventually left for Egypt.

The Komi family was brought to the U.S. with the help of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston. Catholic Charities has, in recent years, helped resettle around 230 refugees a year, although, according to Marjean Perhot, director of Refugee and Immigration Services at the organization, that number might only be between 70 and 80 this year, due to tighter federal regulations on refugee resettlement.

Catholic Charities did not provide support for the refugee family alone, however. The organization partnered with the Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians Collaborative in Newton under the POWR (Parishes/People Organized to Welcome Refugees) program, a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops program implemented by dioceses or charitable organizations throughout the country that helps parishes sponsor refugee families. In the Archdiocese of Boston, the program is carried out by Catholic Charities.

Interested parishioners of the Newton parish collaborative underwent months of training to be ready to accept a refugee family, and raised a large amount of money to help fund early expenses of the Komi family with Catholic Charities.

When the family arrived on Aug. 22, they stayed for a few weeks with two Newton parishioners, Jim and Barbara Allaire, while long-term housing was sought. It was providential, then, that in that time Justin Steil, an attorney and MIT professor, contacted Catholic Charities to let them know that he had a large apartment available to rent to a refugee family at below-market rate.

The Komi family moved into the two bedroom, two bath apartment at the beginning of September. Renovations were being done to the interior and exterior at that time, so Steil waived the rent until the renovations were complete.

When The Pilot visited on Oct. 6 with representatives from Catholic Charities and the parish collaborative, renovations were still underway.

"We want to do what we can to support people who are fleeing persecution in their countries and are coming to the United States to be safe and find a better life," said Steil. "It felt like it was the right thing to do."

The apartment comfortably accommodates the family of five, soon to be six. A master bedroom, complete with its own bathroom, holds Mujahid's and Huda's bed. A crib sits next to the bed for Nofak, their youngest, who is about 18 months. A nearby room holds a bunkbed for Paul, their oldest at 13, and Mansy, the middle child. All of the furniture, all clean and new-looking, has come from the parishioners of the Newton collaborative.

All around the house lay books on how to read English and how to formulate mathematical equations. The children don't yet attend school and the whole family is in the process of learning English.

Mujahid Komi, who did most of the speaking during The Pilot's visit, said he has only taken one month of English classes. Fluent in Arabic, he attends Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), a nearby employment agency, for English classes and to look for a job. Students from Boston College, contacted by the Newton collaborative, also come to the apartment to help tutor the family.

When asked about how he likes the U.S., Mujahid responded "It's good." What about Boston? "I like Boston," he said, "all the people."

The Komi family is Catholic, something of a rarity in predominantly Muslim Sudan. They attend church in Newton, explained Ann Capoccia, a leader of Newton's POWR team. Parishioners pick them up and they drive there together.

During the several weeks the family has been in the country, the parish has sponsored a myriad of activities for the family designed to acquaint them with their new home, said Capoccia. The family has visited museums and zoos, has gone apple picking and even taken a Duck Tour.

Of course, they have been kept busy with JVS and case worker visits and doctor appointments, as well. The parishioners help keep a calendar for the family, and bring them to where they need to go.

If it wasn't for the Newton collaborative, Perhot said, things would probably be much different from the Komi family. It's the POWR program and the Newton collaborative, said Perhot, that has helped to make the transition for the family such a positive one.

During the hour-long interview with the family, the children played and the adults smiled, laughed, and occasionally corrected the children. Nofak came into the living room carrying a large LEGO-like car, and placed it in the middle of the room, smiling at the representatives from the collaborative and Catholic Charities. He was showing off his toy, and Huda smiled down at him.

Nofak, dressed in pajamas and wearing two crosses around his neck, ran off, proud of the toys he had. Paul exited the house with a bike under his arm, likely to ride around the large driveway and parking area behind the house. Mansy flicked his fingers across one of his parent's smartphones.

The family seemed happy -- comfortable and safe in their new home, and happy. Mujahid looked around the room, looked at his wife and children, and then he smiled. "This is freedom," he said.