For a single mother, life inside a refugee camp is overwhelming. Survival depends on her ability to overcome obstacles and persevere in the face of adversity.
Due to political violence in Togo, Djigbodi Touleassi fled with her two young children to a refugee camp in Benin. For approximately three years, they struggled to make it as a family; dealing with inadequate shelter and limited resources. “I was so afraid for my daughter’s safety that I would carry her everywhere on my back so that she was close to me,” said Djigbodi.
While in the camp, Djigbodi met and married Atakora Agoro who provided a new sense of security; however, the celebration of their marriage was cut short when only she and her children were offered resettlement in the United States. Because Djigbodi’s first marriage was considered “cultural”, she had no paperwork to confirm the divorce. As a result, she arrived in Aurora, Illinois with just her children—Atakora had to stay behind. Alone, Djigbodi faced the obstacles of learning a new language and engaging a different culture. “I knew we were safe, but life in America was very different,” said Djigbodi.
With the help of World Relief’s Immigrant Legal Services, after a series of appeals, three years later Atakora was able to join his family. Although together, the family’s struggle for a new life continued. “Here, you need an education for money and for a future,” said Djigbodi.
Although educated professionals in their country, both Djigbodi and Atakora knew that in order to be successful in the U.S., they would have to start-over with their education. Therefore, Djigbodi enrolled in WRDA’s Childcare Microenterprise Development program and received the training and certification needed to open an in-home childcare business, which allows her the flexibility to take classes at Waubonsee Community College. Atakora, a math and physics teacher in Togo, works fulltime to support his family and goes to school fulltime. In May, he will receive his associate’s degree and plans to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Northern Illinois University.
After establishing a routine and finding a balance between work and school, the couple’s next goal was to create stability for their children. And when they learned about Emmanuel House and the opportunity to buy their own home, they applied for the program.
With the goal of helping the working-poor overcome poverty, Emmanuel House uses a Networked Saving Program to make it possible for a working family to save for a down payment on a home. For 18 months, the family lives in housing owned by Emmanuel House and pays market-rate rent. As resident of Emmanuel House, the family attends personal finance classes and their rent money is put into a personal savings account—to be used as a down payment on their first home.
Today both Djigbodi and Atakora are optimistic. Their children are doing well in school and are involved in extra-curricular activities. In the near future, Djigbodi plans to grow her childcare business and join Atakora at NIU as a nursing student. And the entire family looks forward to their first home purchase.