Pascal Nzabo remembers his first experience on U.S. soil. After a grueling flight from Kampala, Uganda, Nzabo and his family were met by a caseworker in Philadelphia. “She picked us up from the airport and took us to our apartment, but there was no food,” he says. “So she gave me some money so I could feed my family and told me to meet her the next day so we could process my food stamps.” Unfortunately, Nzabo, a refugee unsettled by violence in his native Congo, was unfamiliar with food stamps. “I didn’t even know about grocery stores,” Nzabo says. “In Africa, most markets are open-air. When I walked to the store to find food, I didn’t know that had to go inside and open the door.” Two years later, Nzabo is well-adjusted, driving for Prime and living with his family on Springfield’s north side. However, his story is a striking illustration of the culture shock faced by many refugees upon arrival in the United States.
Nzabo spent most of his life in a refugee camp in Uganda, eventually moving to the capital city of Kampala. "In 2017, a group of government and nonprofit organizations gave him the opportunity to bring his wife and two children to the United States." Nzabo learned English in Uganda, which allowed him to find employment fairly quickly. However, some of his friends and family members weren’t so fortunate. “My hope is that [employers] would give refugees a chance,” Nzabo says. “Even if they can’t speak English, they have the talent. They can do anything.”
When Nzabo and his family arrived in Springfield, they were met by Springfield Welcome Home, a local nonprofit that settles refugees. For Nzabo, the organization immediately made Springfield feel like a home instead of a temporary destination. “I haven’t seen that hospitality in any other places,” he says. “Someone who doesn’t know you comes and gives you food at home. I think they even paid my rent. I don’t think there’s any other place in the country [with people] like that.”
Today, Springfield Welcome Home works with about 200 Congolese refugees in the Springfield area. Now that Nzabo is settled, he’s sharing his story in hopes that 417-landers will be more hospitable toward refugees—and he encourages employers to be open to working with them. “I want people to know that ‘refugee’ is not a bad word,” Nzabo says. “You could be a refugee tomorrow… Just put yourself into the shoes of someone else.”
He’s confident that he and his family can make a life in Springfield—although his 7-year-old son, Jazna, may have other ideas. “Jazna told me he wants to go back to Africa when he’s 19 to help the orphans in the refugee camps,” Nzabo says, laughing and shaking his head. “He told me, ‘Dad, I have to start saving money so I can go back to help people.” With any luck, Jazna will keep that big heart right here in southwest Missouri.