Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iréne Tombo ’15 BA along with her parents and eight siblings, fled the war torn country known for its conflict ridden environment and poor treatment of women.
“Throughout the time I lived in Goma, the most unstable region in the country, my family and I frequently fled to neighboring countries because of different wars that broke out,” Tombo explained. “In 2005, when I was 13-years-old, my parents finally decided to leave the DRC permanently.”
As a newly resettled refugee family, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio provided Tombo and her family with the necessary services to help guide them toward a path of self-sufficiency. To ease the family’s transition, Catholic Charities scheduled and transported the family to appointments for social security, immigration, and medical checkups and follow ups. The organization also enrolled Tombo and her siblings in school and her family in government assistance programs.
“The help we received from Catholic Charities had a tremendous impact on me and throughout my four years at UIW,” Tombo said. “To this day, Catholic Charities, continues to play a crucial role in my education journey.”
Through the UIW Center for Refugees Project, the university has collaborated with Catholic Charities, and with their support has been able to reach out to and work with refugees.
“The UIW Center for Refugees Project came into being as a result of UIW’s involvement with the Refugee Resettlement Program in San Antonio and beyond,” said Dr. Lopita Nath, associate professor and chair of the UIW department of history, and coordinator of the Asian studies program. “In the last five years, UIW students and faculty have developed programs, service learning courses, panel presentations, and a general awareness for refugees in San Antonio.”
Tombo feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to earn her Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs at UIW.
“Words would never begin to express my gratitude,” Tombo said. “Without attending UIW, I would have never had the chance to meet and know various students, and university faculty and staff, who have played a crucial role in helping me as I integrated and became accustomed to the United States.”
While pursuing her degree at UIW, Tombo had the opportunity to take part in course-based study abroad, and assist fellow students and refugees as a peer minister.
Tombo and her fellow classmates traveled to India with professors, Nath; Dr. Lydia Andrade, chair of the department of government and international affairs; and Dr. Scott Dittloff, associate professor in government and international affairs. Andrade and Dittloff also led Tombo and her classmates to St. Kitts in the Caribbean.
“Iréne came to UIW with more of a global perspective than some of our other students, but the study of international affairs entails more than personal experience in two countries,” Andrade said.
Andrade explained by studying Asian politics, Indian history, Latin American politics and international organizations, and traveling to India and St. Kitts, Tombo truly gained a global, political, and cultural perspective and understanding – key components of the UIW Mission.
“Studying abroad in India was one of the most enriching learning experiences that enabled me to learn new things about the world and myself that I never would have had the chance to discover by simply attending classes and listening to lectures,” Tombo said.
Tombo’s reach outside the classroom only prospered from there. During her Global Refugee course at UIW, she was assigned to help a family from the Congo. Over the semester, she found the ability and confidence to open up about her experiences through the story of her refugee family. Following this, she wrote a paper and presented at several conferences including the National Gathering for the President’s Interfaith Dialogue and Community Service Challenge in Washington, DC.
Faith has always been an important aspect in Tombo’s life, as was being regularly involved in a worshiping community that brought people of diverse backgrounds together. “After taking the emerging leaders course, I knew I wanted to be a peer mentor as I admired those who mentored me through the class,” she said.
Tombo felt something was missing from being a peer mentor alone and understood what was missing when she found out she could be a peer minister through University Mission and Ministry (UMM) at Incarnate Word.
“I strongly believe that as we navigate through life, we or our lives may be the only bible someone might read and UMM’s Mission to ‘make tangible the Incarnate Word of God in the university’ was truly a calling for me as an individual,” she said.
Tombo is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in International Relations with concentrations in International Political Economy and African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Affairs.
“After graduating, I would like to secure a job that will enable me to conduct more research in my field of study, with the hope of pursing a Ph.D.,” she said.
Tombo truly admires the UIW community that welcomed her, a stranger, with open arms, and feels blessed to have attended an institution that aims to “educate men and women who will become concerned and enlightened citizens within the global community.”
“Throughout my journey, different people have taken me under their wings and this has helped me find the true definition of the word ‘community’ in my life,” Tombo said. “Community is the human race regardless of color, gender or religion, and it is my life purpose to give back to this community.”
By Crystale Lopez