Veronica Niyibigira – Thrivent Financial – Complete
Peace of mind is something that Veronica Niyibigira had always longed for. Not only for herself, but for her loved ones. So when an opportunity to come to America presented itself, she grabbed hold of it — along with all the others that have knocked on her door!
Veronica’s story begins in the Republic of Burundi in the African Great Lakes region of Southeast Africa where she was born. Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world. It has suffered from warfare, political corruption, poor access to education and the brutal impact of HIV/AIDS. Growing up in such adverse conditions, Veronica witnessed first-hand the trauma and devastation ongoing warfare can bring. Both her father and mother were casualties of the war. The war would also separate her from most of her brothers and sisters.
At age 13, Veronica and her older sister, Hawa, then 17, fled to neighboring Tanzania on the eastern border of Burundi. The close-knit siblings would make Tanzania their home for 22 years. There, they spent time in a refugee camp and worked as gardeners – harvesting sweet potatoes, corn, peanuts and other crops. They would later return to Burundi together. But as warfare continued to rage in their native country, Veronica and Hawa sought refuge in Tanzania once again. This time, they brought along another sister.
Veronica went on to make a life for herself in her adopted homeland. She married and raised a daughter and a son, but her son died in Tanzania. When her first grandchild, Erick, was born, Veronica became his primary caregiver. Erick’s mother left Tanzania for Burundi where she currently lives with Erick’s five younger siblings. Veronica, however, chose a different path. Some kind-hearted missionaries told her about the endless opportunities that awaited her in America. To Veronica, it sounded like the perfect place for her and Erick to have some peace. “The Lord guided us,” she said in her native language as Erick interpreted for his grandmother because she speaks limited English.
In 2007, the two came to Chattanooga with assistance from Bridge Refugee Services. “I wanted a place to relax and be comfortable and rest,” Veronica said. She went on to secure a job at Pilgrim’s Pride, and find a welcoming church home at East Ridge Presbyterian. Erick, 11, adjusted as well. “I love it here! I have friends here and people that are helpful at church that I can talk to. I can’t thank them enough.”
While Veronica and Erick settled in the Scenic City, Hawa and Idris relocated to Texas. But in 2013, the family reunited in Chattanooga where they all remain today. (As the story is told, their other sister “fell in love” and left Tanzania bound for Burundi.)
Since arriving here, Veronica and Erick have had five different residences. They learned about Habitat from several other former refugee families, and thought the program might be a good fit for them. “I wanted a Habitat home to know it was mine and to know that I paid for it,” Veronica said. This family has weathered many storms, and they’ve come to realize home is not necessarily where you’re born. Home is where the heart is!
Veronica’s home is the 7th Habitat home built in Chattanooga in partnership
with Thrivent Builds, the local Thrivent Chapter and area Lutherans since 2006!
Funding and Volunteer Support Provided by:
Southeast Tennessee Northwest Georgia Chapter, Thrivent Financial®
Members of Chattanooga Area Lutheran Congregations:
Ascension Lutheran Church
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Cross of Christ Lutheran Church
Faith Lutheran Church
First Lutheran Church
First Lutheran Church (Cleveland)
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Trinity Lutheran Church
Belvoir Christian Academy