Community service is this father’s passion – World Refugee Day 2018
Jacksonville, Florida – Sandon Mims honors Patrick Rombe, a refugee father who performs community service wherever he lives, from Sudan to the refugee camp to the United States.
The number twenty-two is significant to me for two reasons. It is how old I was when I first met Patrick Rombe, a 65-year-old father from Kajo Keji, a small farming town south of Juba, South Sudan. It is also the number of years that Patrick, his wife, and his children lived in a refugee camp in Uganda. Patrick appears much younger than he really is. Quick to dish out hard-earned wisdom and life advice, he once told me earnestly, “Taking care of your community is the most important thing in life.” He’s polite, soft-spoken, energetic, intelligent, and fueled by a passion for community service.
The most apparent of his qualities, however, is that Patrick is an eternal optimist. It is the first and last thing people notice about him, and it is inherent to who he is. He’s consistently upbeat and remarkably positive – a feat for most of us, but especially so considering all that he has been through.
As tensions rose in Sudan in the early 1990s, Patrick and his young family were forced to flee to Uganda. They eventually settled in Adjumani, along with thousands of other innocent bystanders who had lost their homes. Patrick made the best of his 22 years in Adjumani. He quickly learned English and Swahili (he already spoke Arabic, Kakwa, Kuku, Madi, and Lagbara) to broaden his network and initiate positive change in the refugee camp.
He helped wherever and in whatever capacity he was needed as he worked his way through the bureaucratic labyrinth of paperwork, background checks, interviews, and security and health screenings that all refugees must complete before being considered for resettlement in a third country.
In 2011, an accident left Patrick with multiple compound fractures in his lower right leg and foot, a gruesome and debilitating injury. Already on the backlog of refugees waiting to be resettled in a third country, he was expedited to the United States to receive medical care after several unsuccessful surgery attempts in Uganda. He was resettled to Jacksonville, Florida with his wife and four eldest children. In 2014, Patrick’s right leg was amputated below the knee.
Patrick has not let his disability get in the way of his mobility, and he has become a staple in the social thread of his community with this community service. He was hired by Jacksonville Refugee Community Services (JRCS), where he provided direct services and support to hundreds of refugees: assisting them with job search, preparing them for interviews, and providing interpretation services and cultural orientations where needed. He helped build the Jacksonville African Community Organization (JACO), of which he was and still is a board member.
His eldest son, now age 28, joined the US National Guard and is serving in Minnesota. His second oldest is studying IT, while his daughter is studying international law. His third son recently graduated high school and is working as an ordering clerk at a warehouse in Jacksonville, saving money for college.
Patrick still has two children living in Adjumani. They were scheduled for resettlement in January 2017 and, if not for executive orders, the family would be reunited today. He speaks with them often, as well as to his sister in Juba, encouraging them all to persevere. It is unclear whether they will be reunited with their father anytime soon. Patrick remains optimistic.
He once invited me to a Sudanese community cookout at a local church. There were dozens of people, live music, a large grill, and a bouncy house for children. Every father, mother and child went out of their way to greet us, always referring to Patrick as “Uncle” – a title of admiration, respect, and endearment granted to men of his age and influence, I later learned. An appropriate salutation, I thought.
His story is one shared with millions of other refugees: a tale of perseverance in the face of astonishingly unfavorable odds.
In anticipation of World Refugee Day 2018, I reflect on my relationship with Patrick. I admire his leadership and community service. I am grateful for our unlikely and unforeseen friendship. Most important, I celebrate all that he has accomplished.
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World Refugee Day 2018
This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and the courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.
Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day: therefugeecenter.org/world-refugee-day.