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James  Burundi

I was 20 years old when I first came to that refugee camp. I was in the refugee camp for 11 years. I was chosen to be a security guard because of my good behavior. I would talk with the guys from Tanzania to secure the camp. I was chosen by the guys from Tanzania because they thought I had good behavior and could help them secure the camp.

I was also teaching kids and coaching soccer. Some guys came down from Canada to teach us how to play the sports and how to coach all the children—basketball, soccer, and other sports. I got a certificate to be a coach, so I would coach the kids. I got a certificate to teach also. I was a kindergarten teacher. There were different schools in the camp because it was such a big refugee camp. In my school there were 500 kids. There were 1,800 people in the camp total. The majority were children.

I met my wife and we got married in the refugee camp. We didn't know each other in Burundi—we used to live in different regions. We just met in the refugee camp.

When I moved to Vermont, I spent three days in the house. When I was watching through the window, I would see only white people, and I was wondering if one day I would be able to see another black person. I didn't know what I was going to do. I didn't know how I was going to go to the marketplace, and I didn't know if I was ever going to find someone to talk to—because I didn't know the language.

In the refugee camp, I didn't make a lot of money, but I didn't have any bills to pay, so I could live with that money. Here I make more compared to the refugee camp, but I still have a lot of bills to pay. There were also the friendships that I had in the camps. In the refugee camp we used to spend the whole evening sitting around and talking. Here I just spend my time at home. I can't go to visit friends because of the language and also because everyone is working. Now that there are Burundian people coming that speak the same language—I am less lonely.

I have five kids, seven people in my family in total. My oldest son is eleven, the second one is nine, the third one is six, the fourth is three, and the last one is six months. We are having a really good life because we are getting food—the government is helping us. The kids are going to school—my three year old is starting this year.

My message to the Vermont community would be first to thank them for welcoming us with a heart of serving and welcoming refugees. The second thing I would say is that the refugee concept is something that is a hard thing really to understand because being a refugee means suffering and broken hearted. There are a lot of things going on in a refugee's mind based on what that person went through. If somebody comes to you with a question or is asking for service—even if you don't speak the language, take the time just to listen to him. Even if you don't understand a single word, try just to imagine what he is trying to tell you, because that person really needs help.

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