In 2010, Josh Kangere fled the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent the next 7 years in Kenya.
It took nearly all that time to be vetted as a refugee for admittance to the United States. When he finally got clearance, it was almost too late.
Josh arrived in New York moments before President Trump suspended the American refugee resettlement program. Still, he underwent hours of intense questioning before being allowed in.
With the help of the International Institute of Connecticut, and local volunteers — including many from Westport — he now lives in a Bridgeport apartment, with 3 other refugees. He pays $350 a month.
One of Josh’s first priorities — along with learning better English, and adapting to a very different country — was finding a job. In Congo, he’d worked as a hospital nurse. Much of his work involved documenting rape cases for legal prosecution.
He did not have the language skills or accreditation to work in the medical field here. (His main languages are Swahili and French; his English is workable.)
Josh had just started his job search when the Wall Street Journal published a story about him.
Jennifer saw it. A longtime Westporter, she’d been looking for cleaning and dish-washing help at Sugar & Olives, the restaurant/bar/cooking school/event space just over the Norwalk line.
She hired him immediately.
Josh Kangere, at work.
Josh takes the bus from Bridgeport. It’s a long, unfamiliar trek, to do work that is below his skills, but he is happy to be there.
“I cannot be a man without a job,” he says. “Any job. I am ready to work.”
Jennifer — who feeds Josh dinner in part so he can save money, in part to introduce him to American food — knows she may be criticized for hiring someone who had been in this country for just a few days, instead of a local resident.
“Do you know how hard it is to find someone who cares about a job like this, and is willing to work hard?” she asks. “This is like looking for a nanny. The fit has to be right. If you don’t have a fire under your feet, you don’t belong in a restaurant. I need someone who isn’t just in this for the paycheck.”
Jennifer has welcomed Josh into the Sugar & Olives family — and her own. Her son August Laska — a Staples grad — has studied Swahili at Middlebury College. They’ve chatted a bit by phone. (Josh is also fluent in French.)
Jennifer Balin and Chris Grimm. He has helped welcome Josh Kangere to Sugar & Olives as a fellow employee.
Jennifer believes that “the beauty of America is giving everyone an equal chance at success — and that includes immigrants. We can only learn from each other. Keeping our borders open and safe is a positive thing.”
“I’m blessed,” says Josh, who hopes to return some day to the medical field.
He says Jennifer has “a love I’ve never seen. To help people she does not know, that is special.”
Everywhere in this area, he adds, “I meet good people. They want to help me. I’m so happy with everything.
“I hope with the grace of God, in the future my life will be good. God bless the American people.”