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Family who lived in refugee camp for 17 years dreams of house one day


Obed Nshuti nods when a visitor asks if an older brother plays lacrosse.

Obed, 9, adds: “I used to play soccer.”

There’s no soccer ball in the ground-floor, three-bedroom apartment on East Riverside Drive where Obed lives with his family of 11.

But there’s hope that Austin promises better times for Issa Noheli and Colette Mukagatare, their children (five of them, including Obed, 16 or younger) and granddaughter Vanessa Isimbi, 1.

Noheli, 61, with Obed seated next to him on a living room couch, revisited the horrors of before, notably the 1997 attack on the Mudende refugee camp in Rwanda where Noheli had landed after ethnic Hutu forces burned his farm in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Noheli was shot in the leg and left for dead. He later lost his leg and was reunited with his wife and children.

After 17 years in a refugee camp, they were given refugee status in the United States.

But now the family has needs.

They are part of the Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring program, which highlights the stories of 12 families and helps hundreds of others through local nonprofit agencies. The Noheli family was nominated by Interfaith Action of Central Texas.

In their apartment, five girls fill two beds in one bedroom. Three boys (sleeping head to toe to head) fill two beds a room over.

Most weekdays, Noheli and his wife take English classes. Afternoons, Mukagatare shops and cooks while Noheli naps or watches the kids.

Noheli, limited to moving around on crutches, wishes he could play with his son and the other kids.

Life could improve with English language software for the family’s adults and, for Noheli, a prosthetic leg, an electric scooter and perhaps a car he could drive. One daughter, Gentile Umuhoza, says she’d love to earn a GED diploma and to see her own daughter, Vanessa, in preschool.

Mukagatare would like training for almost any job.

They also need such items as a washer and dryer and laptops for the children to do schoolwork.

Obed, the family’s third-grader, volunteers his own wish.

It’s not a soccer ball.

“A house,” he says.

To find out more about the Noheli family or to donate an item on their wish list, contact Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145; interfaithtexas.org.


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