Crispin ILombe Wilondja
by Teni-Ola Ogunjobi
Crispin ILombe Wilondja, Bus Driver
On March 23rd, our staff member Crispin ILombe Wilondja received the Georgia Asylum & Immigration Network (GAIN)’s Client Inspiration Award at their Go Formal For Freedom gala. Crispin was honored for being a role model in the immigrant community and for showing our clients all they can achieve in the United States. GAIN’s mission is to provide free immigration legal services to victims of crime and persecution. Every year, GAIN’s Go Formal for Freedom Gala honors amazing supporters including clients, volunteers, and community leaders who have advocated on behalf of GAIN and the clients we serve. The Executive Director of GAIN, Monica Khant, gives background on Crispin’s connection to GAIN and on the award:
Crispin was honored as our 2nd Client Inspiration awardee for his efforts and work on behalf of the refugee community. Crispin came to GAIN as an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo and received asylum status based on the persecution he suffered in his home country. The volunteer attorney team from Alston & Bird (David O’Neal, Brendan Krasinski, Elizabeth Gingold Clark, & Richard Grice) assisted Crispin with filing his asylum application and represented him at the interview. They were deeply affected by Crispin’s journey to the United States and went above and beyond in their representation of him. Since receiving asylum and because of his journey as an asylum seeker, Crispin has made it his mission in life to welcome refugees and ensure that they acclimate to a new country. He just wants to make things easier and better for refugees as they embark on a new chapter in life in a new country. It is for his tireless efforts and his energy and love for this population that he is receiving the GAIN’s Client Inspiration Award. Crispin is an inspiration to the community and is a voice for those who need it the most. We are grateful for Crispin.
To the GAIN community, Crispin was a client and their 2018 Client Inspiration Awardee; to the refugee resettlement agency Lutheran Services of Georgia (LSG) he is a Resettlement and Immigration Case Manager; and to our Global Village Project (GVP) community, he is a Bus Driver. He leads Good Samaritan Ministry and he is a husband and father. Crispin has fulfilled many roles in his life and in the larger community of refugees, immigrants, and agencies that serve refugees and immigrants in Metro Atlanta. The back story that led him to these current titles is a story that is important to share with our community.
Crispin is a former Catholic priest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He earned a master’s degree in Moral Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California in 2009. He returned home and was assigned to be the pastor of a very poor parish in a suburb of Kinshasa. There he experienced the dire situation of his congregation. His parishioners were destitute and suffering from all the ravages of extreme poverty.
“Facing such a situation, I decided to start speaking out against the government, denouncing their greed and daily violations of human rights in my sermons. As the result, I became the target of the government. I was arrested three times, tortured, beaten … my life was regularly threatened … My mother was beaten, injured, my cousin and my sister were both raped… Since I could not stop denouncing the government’s inaction toward my people’s suffering, the government planned to physically kill me. I was then obliged to flee Congo,” Crispin explains.
His journey in Georgia began in 2011 when he arrived and first contacted GAIN, who connected him to his pro bono attorneys and helped him file for and receive his asylum status in 2012. He started working with the refugee community in 2014 as a French, Swahili, Lingala, and Kikongo interpreter with GAIN. There was an influx of Congolese refugees being resettled by LSG, so they needed a case manager to support this community and Crispin was a great fit. In his role as a case manager with LSG, Crispin’s goal is to welcome refugees, empower them, and lead them to thriving in the U.S.
“For my work, I define myself as a bridge on which refugees pass coming from the refugee camps to America… When I work with refugees every day, what I get to see every day is hope, resilience, determination, love of life and appreciation for being able to rebuild their lives.” Crispin adds.
It was in his role as a case manager with LSG that Crispin started engaging with GVP. We receive the bulk of our students through referrals from case managers at refugee resettlement agencies in Georgia. Crispin referred a number of students to GVP and facilitated family visits to our school beginning in the spring of 2017. Our bus drivers are key members of our community because they serve as necessary liaison for our GVP students and families to the school. Crispin was an ideal candidate for this role because he has ties to the community, exceptional language skills, and bus driving experience.
“He has helped make a connection between us, the refugee serving agencies, and some of the families at GVP. He has a big heart and he understands how important GVP is to a better future for the girls and their families,” explains GVP Operations/Bus Program Manager, Denise Reidy-Puckett.
Crispin enjoys his role at GVP because he considers it a continuation of his role as a case manager and because he sees the students from point of entry to the United States and through their education.
“I used to teach, so I know the gaps in education for our girls. I am also case manager of a few of our current students. Bringing them to GVP where they have individualized education, I feel happy to bring them here to get the foundation and basics tools they need to get to the level they must reach to continue their education. GVP is a special opportunity for these refugee girls and to be a part of offering this opportunity to a girl is the best gift I can offer to a girl, a family, to a community,” Crispin states.
Discovering the love and consideration that GVP girls have for him is a memorable experience for Crispin. He feels the embrace from students who he serves through case management and also students that do not know him well.
“Once I switched from driving my usual bus route to another bus route, and once I returned, the students hugged me and said, ‘ Mr. Crispin, we missed you on our bus.’ They find something greater in me than just someone who drives them. It’s something special,” says Crispin.
Crispin returns the embrace from the girls by using love, patience, and compassion in his role. Love helps him understand, accept and forgive; patience helps him hold his judgement; and compassion helps him overcome the challenges and be empathic when working with the students.
While serving in many capacities in the refugee and immigrant community, Crispin has developed relationships with many people. One common thing that shocks people about Crispin is his consistent ability to have such a joyful attitude.
“When they learn about my journey, they are surprised that I can be so joyful and positive despite my experience,” adds Crispin.
This joyful attitude has been a wonderful addition to our GVP team and his incredible journey is inspiring.
GVP Students Participate in
Nationwide National School Walk Out
GVP students expressed their First Amendment rights during a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with the National School Walk Out on March 14th at 10AM. Their participation was an outcome of learning about First and Second Amendment rights, the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and researching peaceful protests. Students were asked how they felt about the walkout and they all chose to prepare and to participate in the 17-minute walk out–1 minute for every life lost at Parkland–along with the thousands of students across the country. We marched around the perimeter of our school and up onto the plaza above the Decatur MARTA station. Thanks to our GVP community members who joined with us as we stood up for peace and for those whose lives were lost in Parkland.
The New Americans Celebration (NAC) organized by the Coalition for Refugee Service Agencies is always a good experience for new Americans and refugee/immigrant supporters. Lutheran Services of Georgia Case Worker/GVP Bus Driver, Crispin ILombe Wilondja, participated in a skit to show NAC participants how to discuss issues with their representatives. Our Board Member & Mentor Steve Heckler represented GVP as an NAC Team Leader. Steve facilitated training with his group that included tips on engaging legislators. Groups put advocacy in action by visiting representatives’ offices and calling them out of session. Thanks to everyone that joined us for #NAC18 at the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Georgia State Capitol.
by Teni-Ola Ogunjobi
How do we love thee? Let us count the ways… during AmeriCorps Week 2018 from March 11th-17th, we showed love to GVP’s first ever AmeriCorps Member, Kate Mull. Kate is our School Support AmeriCorps Member, so her role is essential to our daily academic, administrative, and enrichment work at GVP. Kate is also one of the few people who are at GVP from the beginning of the school day to the end, so we are always impressed by her work ethic and love the energy she adds to our team. She acts as a tutor to students individually, facilitates guided reading sessions in small groups, assists teachers with classroom instruction, serves as a coach for our Girls on the Run program, and so much more. She illustrates the essence of AmeriCorps everyday by getting things done in a major and excellence way at GVP! We love you Kate and we are lucky to have you serving at our school! Thank you!
The time is here! Our annual Tribute to Education Gala is April 29, 2018, at the Temple on Peachtree and we want you there! You can purchase tickets TODAY!