A new refugee support nonprofit launches in suburban central Iowa
The launch party for Shalom Community Impact Center (SCIC) as a nonprofit started with music and a short student dance recital.
The idea for SCIC started out among a small church group of refugees in 2010. They would gather for fellowship and prayer to support one another as they began their journey in the U.S. As time went on, founder and executive director Pastor Eugene Kiruhura said he wanted to reach more people in his community, especially as he noticed more refugees were beginning their resettlement processes in the state.
"I have been serving people as a pastor, helping people in many ways. But I got to the level where I am tired doing it myself and doing it as a church," Kiruhura said. "So we try to serve not only the church members, but serve the entire community, reaching other people who are not even church members. Reaching the community, different people, different nationalities, different backgrounds, and to be able to serve the entire community is to have a nonprofit."
Kiruhura came to the U.S. as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2007. He explained how he received so much support from his community in Urbandale and he wanted to do the same thing for others.
When the pandemic hit and schools shifted to online or hybrid models, he knew parents needed support while they worked. So he offered childcare at the center.
He learned English as his fifth language when he came, and realized others could benefit from English classes. So he offered English language instruction. All of this was made possibly by a staff of about 50 volunteers.
Immaculee Nyabigondo is a parent who uses the childcare option, English language classes and the new computer classes. She spoke to the dozens of people at the nonprofit launch party while they ate from a spread of traditional Congolese cuisine. She thanked the Iowa Department of Human Rights for donating the computers.
These classes, she said, have made it easier for her to help her children with their school homework and go about her daily life with much more ease.
"Please don't stop," Nyabigondo told the crowd through Kiruhura, who interpreted for her, "continue to support us. We want to grow and continue learning so we can help our families."
Kiruhura explained although there are refugee support systems currently in place in Des Moines proper, it can be difficult for new Iowans to travel from Urbandale, Clive, Johnston and West Des Moines if they don't have a car or a driver's license. So a nonprofit location in Urbandale has opened up refugee support and empowerment services in a better location for these individuals and their families.
“There is a lot of barriers, there is a lot of challenges for refugees and immigrants, so they need always someone to lift them up. Someone to help. It's a journey," Kiruhura said.
He detailed that many refugees flee dangerous conditions in their countries of origin, many times a war. But when they come to the U.S., it's a different type of challenge.
“We flew the war from our country, but when we get here, there is a different war. There is different challenges like war," he said. Like navigating education, jobs and other systems."This is not about us. It's about Iowans. It's about community. It's about about next generation."
Kiruhura said he looks forward to working with other organizations to continue their work in empowering and supporting refugees.