We are the Congolese Community of Champaign County. The estimated number of Congolese living in Champaign County is more than 6,000 persons. Our mission is to support each other and help our children learn about the country, as well as assisting new members.
We support each other by collecting money when one of us has a problem or when it comes to mourning. When a person passes, our members contribute $50 to support the family of the decreased. We sometimes collect more than $18,000. We had a situation where one of our community members passed three years ago, but she didn’t have any close family members here. We collected money for the burial expenses, instead of having her cremated, which is against our traditions. We collected enough money to cover all the funeral expenses, and we sent the remaining money to her family in Congo.As president of the Community, I look for ideas on how we can help the welcoming country. Two years ago, I created a free French class that was taught at Urbana Free Library. People enjoyed learning a different language. I think there will be another class in the future. I also started a program to inform our community about important news and events in America. I read various newspapers and watch news, pick what is related to our community, and I explain that in French and Lingala through Facebook Live at Communauté Congolaise de Champaign County. We have also proposed to a local TV station to translate their news daily and create a YouTube channel where we will target French-speaking people.
We work with local organizations to get more Congolese people vaccinated against COVID-19. We also inform our community about the programs at Parkland College. We invite Parkland staff to speak at our Congolese churches and get people enrolled in classes. This outreach and partnership have been very successful.
We also help people renew their Congolese passports through the embassy located in Washington, DC. Embassy staff have come here twice since 2019 to take fingerprints and photos for that purpose. We also help newcomers with all the preliminary questions. We help our members fill out different administrative forms, translating when needed.
We participated in an event with the YMCA’s New American Welcome Center at the I Hotel, and we speak at various meetings about the Congolese community.
More Congolese are coming here because they know that they will be welcome, and they will find local support. We were recently contacted by the Illinois State Board of Education about their program called VIT (Visiting International Teachers). We are creating a partnership so that selected Congolese teachers will come to Illinois.
We have more projects that will be revealed in the future. Our current officers are President John Matanda Tshipama, First Vice President Michel Kalenga, Second Vice President Robson Kiyangi, Treasurer Celestin Kabwe, and Secretary Christian Ilunga.
This year is the end of the current officers’ terms. I personally don’t want to run again because I need to help people in different ways. I created an organization called “Le Devéloppement C’est Moi” (Development is Me). Its mission is to collect money among Congolese all over the world and support governmental and private development projects. The goal is to do our own self-development. We are looking for any individual or organization that can partner with us, and any donations are most appreciated. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Matanda Tshipama has lived in the United States since 2013. He is a third-grade teacher in the Multilingual Program at Yankee Ridge Elementary School in Urbana, and the president of the Congolese Community of Champaign County.
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