Twenty-three years ago, Abwe Songolo made the fateful decision to keep moving. It was August of 2000, and he had spent hours sailing across Lake Tanganyika from his hometown in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the city of Kigoma in Tanzania, where he had to live on the streets. He had escaped the war engulfing Congo, but Tanzania still felt too close to home. “I wanted to go as far as possible from Congo because of what I’d experienced,” he said. “Because I would have flashbacks of it.”
Mr. Songolo had grown up in a village in Congo and was helping tend his family’s farm when the Second Congo War broke out. He remembers the day — June 30, 2000, the country’s Independence Day — when his family gathered around their radio to listen to the celebrations and then suddenly realized that soldiers outside were trying to break down the front door. The family scattered. Mr. Songolo took cover under the bed, and when he emerged, he saw the devastation: His father and four older brothers had been shot dead.
Abwe Songolo, his wife and their five children are adjusting to life in Phoenix.
Then only 18 years old, Mr. Songolo fled — first to Tanzania and eventually to Mozambique. Border agents in Mozambique directed him to a refugee camp, but he struggled to adjust: He had no money, knew no trade and did not speak Portuguese, the official language. “Life was difficult,” Mr. Songolo said. “I was still very young, and I had to start taking care of myself to do all I could to survive.”