Denise is our sister from the Congo, Africa

The following is THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF INTERVIEWS called “FULL CIRCLE SISTERHOOD” in a partnership with FULL CIRCLE EXCHANGE and BRAVE GIRLS CLUB as part of an initiative to help marginalized women around the world and right here in the USA….READ MORE HERE about the launch of this initiative.

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Her husband was brutally murdered in their village in front of their young son. After surviving that horror, two of her children were kidnapped and have not been heard from or about since….she prays every day to hear something of their whereabouts. Yet she goes on with bravery as she builds a new life across the world from everything she knows and without the people she loves most…..

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This is Denise Bauakure, a brand new resident of the USA. She now lives right here in Idaho, in fact. Denise is a new friend of ours. Her story just might help you understand the refugee program across the world and how a person gets pushed far enough to have to make the harrowing decision to move from her own homeland to another country where everything and everyone is foreign.  This is our hope in telling her story….that each of us might dig deeper to hear the whole story rather than labeling a person “refugee” or “unemployed” or “foreign”. Our hope is that once you have heard her story, you will see that she is your friend and sister too, and that there are real things that we can do to help each other along the way….and that really, we must help when we get the chance.

If you know anything about the history of The Congo in this lifetime….you might guess that Denise’s story is tragic and heroic. Your guess would be right. Please read on to learn about one of the most unforgettable stories you might ever encounter.

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First, if you’re wondering how we came to know Denise….she now lives here in Boise, Idaho as part of a refugee relocation program. She came her here with her only remaining family member, her beloved youngest son. She is here to build a new life, free from the threat of harm or death due to deep rooted tribalism in the Congo.

I am Melody Ross, and I had the honor of designing a product line for Full Circle Exchange to launch a new program with Walmart that helps women all over the world. (READ MORE ABOUT THAT HEREDenise was hired as part of Full Circle Exchange’s Work Readiness program to assemble some of the greeting cards that I designed for them. We all dreamed of this becoming a Full Circle Sisterhood, providing jobs for those who have difficulty even finding an opportunity for a job….and certainly it has done this for Denise. She and many other women, our sisters from 11 different countries, used her hands to assemble cards that will make their way into the hands of other sisters around the world….sisters like YOU! Below is Jeanette Priddy, cofounder of Full Circle Exchange…along with Denise and me. You might be able to tell that our eyes are very red and puffy from a tear-filled afternoon of hearing Denise tell us her story…..We took this photo right after…..this is the kind of story that changes your life….

Denise Jeanette Melody Ross

When I began interviewing Denise, I learned that she has only been in the USA for 3 months. She left the Congo for a refugee program in Uganda 2001 after her husband was beheaded with a machete by a member of the opposing tribe in her nation.  He  had been walking home from work with their young son, who witnessed his murder and ran home to get his mother. After his death, her life and the lives of her three children were constantly threatened, forcing them out of their home country and into Uganda, to become refugees. Once she relocated to Uganda, she took her skills and opened a business designing and selling clothing. She did the best she could to provide for herself and her three children and chose not to remarry because of her deep love for her husband. She made a life in Uganda as a refugee for 11 years, doing the best that she could in a new country with no family.  Four years ago she and her children went to the marketplace and she somewhere lost track of her oldest two children who were then teenagers. Thinking that they went ahead and walked home without her…she headed home to find them not there. She waited hour after hour…..going from confused to very afraid…and to this day, she has no idea where her children are or what happened to them. She spent years working with the Red Cross and other agencies to find them as continued tragedies filled her life.

Throughout our interview, each time she spoke one of their names she began to cry again. A daughter and a son. 18 years old and 17 years old the last time she saw them. She grieves for them day and night as any mother would. She wonders if they are alive, if they are well, if she will ever see them again. She aches to know. She mentioned several times that losing her husband was beyond painful, but at least she was able to bury his body and know of his fate. Not knowing about her children is the hardest trial she has ever had to endure.

I want you to know that I have had the privilege of hearing hundreds of women’s stories from all over the world, and sometimes I even get the high honor of being asked to tell the stories. I also want you to know that I hold this story with immense sacredness…not lightly. It is fragile and it is important. It is also very complicated and hard to tell. Once I heard the stories of several of the women who are now relocated here in Boise from the Congo (and many of them are from opposing tribes), I had to do extensive research about the history…the wars, the genocide, and the tribalism. I do not pretend to be any kind of expert on these complex issues. What I do know for sure is that they are extremely complex, deeply rooted and incredibly tragic. Many of these slayings come from deeply rooted beliefs, resentments and revenge that gets passed on to the next generations. Many of them are caused by things as simple as nose shape or how tall or short someone is…ways that they tell one tribe from another. If you are up for it, do some research on the warring tribes of the Congo and you might get a glimpse into what many of our brothers and sisters are healing from and living through.

Again…Denise is here now, in the USA, in Idaho. She started as a young girl born to her family of origin in the Congo…her parents, her siblings. Life was good.  She fell in love with a man from the opposing tribe. They chose to build a life and a family together. They worked hard. They had three children, they loved their life. He was murdered because of tribalism, and she and her remaining children had to flee and leave their life behind to start over in another country so that they would not also be murdered. They ran to Uganda to live as refugees without their husband and father. She was brave and did her best and the horrors continued. Her label is not REFUGEE….her label is brave soul.

And she is here now in the USA where she can feel safe and start over YET AGAIN.

In the last few months months that it took for Denise and our other sisters from many other countries to assemble the greeting cards that will soon be in Walmart, one could walk into the big open area where they were working and see them in their traditional clothing and simply label it as a work room full of refugees. What strikes me now is that all of the hundreds of stories each one of those women were holding…as they hand signed each of the cards they made with their new residence of “Idaho, USA”…and how hard they have fought to get here, what and who they had to leave behind to be here.  What touched me deeply was the terrific appreciation they have for every single minute spent feeling safe, how very very very much they do not take the gift of being here for granted. They finally feel safe, they finally feel free and they are ready to work hard to build a new life with their own hands.

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I think about what Denise has been through as she is assembling and signing these cards…..here in the USA for not even for half of a year so far. She had to leave Uganda after her children were kidnapped because her shop was robbed one day when the authorities called and told her that 2 bodies had been found that were roughly the age of her children. She traveled to possibly identify them, finding that it was not them. When she returned to her refugee home in Uganda, she learned that her small shop had been robbed of all inventory and equipment. Can you imagine this after all that they had already been through? She had no way of making a living and after several years of searching for her children and trying to make ends meet to provide for her son, the refugee program gave her the opportunity to move to America. She was relocated here to Boise, Idaho…where we all became part of each other’s lives through handmade cards…

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You might think that assembling cards is just an ordinary job…….but this job is so much more than meets the eye. The collection of products that Denise is working on is called The Malaya Collection….named after our sisters in the Philippines whose stories inspired this project. Malaya means “FREE” as in FREEDOM. The cards that Denise is making are part of the story of her finally becoming free. We are all meant to be free. ALL OF US. Now that Denise is here….we get to learn some great lessons from her.  I want to share with you a few of the words of wisdom that she shared with us on the day that she told us her story….

Melody: “Denise, you are such a strong woman, and you are a mother and motherhood gives you strength to do things for your children that you would never have the strength to do.  So what is a message you have for all the women of the world after what you have learned?” 

Denise: “When you have a problem, do not lose hope. You must be strong.”

Melody: “What does it take to be strong?”

Denise: “I want to be strong, to show my enemies that what they have done to me does not bother me. To show them that I am strong. But as a Christian, I know we have problems; we are not in heaven. Reading the Bible has helped me, especially the Book of Job with him losing his whole family. It helps me be strong to know I am not the first one. And I know that God is there and he loves me, and maybe all that hHe let happen to me with my husband and my children happened so that people could see this problem, and have it change them. To be strong is a gift from God. You may try to be strong but you can’t without God. You must thank him for your strength.”

Melody:  “There are a lot of women here who don’t have mothers, or don’t have a good relationship with them. How can we best, as women, mother each other and sister each other? Do you have any advice on how we can be good to each other every day?”
Denise: “Well if someone has a problem, you should help them and support them.”
Melody: “Home is such a sacred word to you now. What does home mean to you? You’ve had to make a home in Congo, Uganda, and now the United States…what does home mean for you?”
Denise: “First of all to be as responsible as possible, to take initiative. The most important thing for me now is for my son to go to school and get an education, and me too. To have a good job. That is how I will make home for my son.”
Melody: “Is there anything that you would love us to know about you? When you meet up with somebody what do you wish they would see about you? How would you describe yourself?”
Denise:First, that I am strong, and I have patience. I want peace. I want to be okay, and to just forget about everything that has happened. I want to leave it behind me. I have forgiven my enemies for what has happened, I want to continue to forgive. I have many dreams. I want to be someone in the future. I want to study clothing design. I love to make new designs. I want to work hard to rebuild my life.”

Melody: “What message would you give to people about tribalism, about refugees, about our world?”

Denise: “I would say that we are all one. There is no short people, long nose people, we all come from one. Our origin is from Adam. If you are white or you are black we are all the same. And it’s like a garden, if you have only one color of flower it looks bland. We are all the same, but if you are short or tall be proud of who you are. But just because of that we are not different; we are all the same. God wanted there to be short people and tall people.”

Melody: “Do you have a final message for everyone?”

Denise: “Yes, please don’t let any problems get in the way of your dreams.”

We talked a lot in the interview about this job…about how it is giving Denise the training, the skills, the opportunities she needs to be able to rebuild her life for herself and her son. She, like all of the other women in the program, is willing to do whatever it takes. She is not afraid of hard work. This job has meant so much to her on so many levels. This is important and the reason we all want to keep this program moving.

There are many parts of the interview that I am leaving out…tender things that were personal and fragile and that deserve a world class book to be written about them.  This is a complicated story because in our program here, we have sisters from both tribes…now all together here in America after their tribes have massacred each other’s family and friends. There is so much more to this sacred story than I could ever try to tell. This is their story, and I hope someday that they will have the opportunity to tell it in its entirety in the way that they want to tell it. For now…these sisters are all working to forgive each other, to put the past behind them, to heal, to move forward, to figure this all out.

When Jeanette and I sat and talked about how we could use cards to connect sisters from all over the world, it seemed like a beautiful idea. Now to see it come to fruition in such a powerful way is beyond description. I hope you will join us in this circle and buy the cards and other products that Denise and the other women of the world are making…I hope that you will take time to make some Truth Cards for them as described in the video at the bottom of this blog story. To keep this beautiful program going…I most of all hope that you will head to Walmart or Mardels and BUY these cards so that these jobs will continue on for so many women like Denise.

Here she is holding one of the cards she made. Underneath the photo of Denise is the original painting that this card was made from.

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butterfly painting by melody ross

I made that painting at MY kitchen table to bring healing to my heart….

Denise Jeanette Melody Ross

Do you see how this is all coming full circle?

love, melody

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This post is one of many in a series about Full Circle Sisterhood – a collaborative project between Brave Girls Club and Full Circle Exchange with a mission to help at-risk women from around the world rebuild their lives.  (Read an introduction to this partnership here.) This collaboration is part of the Brave Girls Truth Card project which we introduced at the end of 2012. We are so very happy to see how this project is now coming ‘full circle’. Please take a minute to watch this video to see exactly what we mean, and how YOU can be part of this circle of sisterhood…

Do you want to join the Sisterhood?  Here’s how you can:

SHOP –  Look for our Mother’s Day display at Walmart between April 21st and May 11th.  Purchasing these products opens the door for future contracts ensuring job creation for our new sisters.

LIKE – Full Circle Exchange on Facebook to receive updates and enter giveaways

CREATE Truth Cards by signing up to receive our free truth card kit (along with updates about future projects)…it’s a great way to jump in and be part of the Full Circle of Sisterhood

SPREAD THE WORD by sharing these stories and this mission with your family & friends!

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