Hilaire Tshombe is a former RISE member and refugee originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo with a passion for helping immigrants navigate the barriers he once experienced. Since arriving in Iowa from South Africa in 2014, he’s earned a social work degree from Mount Mercy University, completed an Americorps RISE term, and started work with the Catherine McAuley Center to help others on their path to success.
Hilaire’s year with the RISE program kick-started his career with CMC. Throughout his 2019-2020 term, Hilaire interpreted for clients in Swahili, French, Lingala, and more. He also provided “Cultural Orientations” for new refugees and immigrants as they adjusted to a drastically new life in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Hilaire says his year with RISE was formative for gaining non-profit experience with clients from diverse backgrounds.
Almost immediately after his RISE term, Hilare was hired by the CMC as a disaster relief case manager. He’s now integral to helping the community recuperate from the derecho this August, which struck Cedar Rapids with 140 mph winds equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. He says many clients are still recovering from the economic and psychological impacts of the natural disaster.
“Especially for people who came from Africa or refugee camps, they sometimes develop some depression or some PTSD,” Hilaire says. “They remember again the life they were living before and think, ‘We are in America now, why can we suffer again like this?’”
HIlaire hopes to empower these struggling clients by teaching them the strategies he used to get by and ultimately achieve success as a new immigrant in Iowa. By teaching them life skills like budgeting and where to receive resources, he hopes to help his clients overcome the same financial and cultural roadblocks he lived through only a few years ago.
“I know how hard it is to be without money. I know how it feels if you don’t have something to eat. I know it is hard to be in a foreign country,” Hilaire says. “I struggled a lot but I didn't give up.”