Escalating violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo temporarily stalled the efforts and hopes of De La Salle student Felix Songolo. This spring, the then-junior organized a collection for Congolese youths — gathering enough clothes, shoes and backpacks to fill five large bags and receiving about $400 in donations. The plan was to distribute the items during his first-ever visit to his parents’ native country. The family fled the Congo to Zambia before Songolo was born.

An updated travel warning issued by the U.S. Department of State will keep the teen from returning to his roots this summer. “Armed groups, bandits and some elements of the Congolese armed forces operate in provinces (throughout the region),” the warning states. “These groups have been known to kill, rape, kidnap, pillage and carry out military or paramilitary operations in which civilians may be indiscriminately targeted.” 

Given the country’s long instability, the need to postpone the trip wasn’t a total surprise. Nevertheless, “I’m really saddened,” said Songolo, who had received support from De La Salle and the wider community. The Catholic Sentinel featured Songolo’s efforts in the June 2 issue.

Songolo hopes a trip in December or next spring might be possible but realizes “everything is up in the air.” He’s currently trying to contact everyone who contributed money and ask how they’d like him to handle their donations. The teen understands the postponement “might make people feel iffy” about their funds. Songolo already has connected with those who donated items and hopes to distribute the bags’ contents eventually.

In spite of the disappointment, he’s not let his suddenly free summer go to waste.

Songolo recently returned from a camp at Stanford University in California focused on sociology. “I was able to talk about immigrants and my refugee experience,” he said. He’s an intern at the Refugee Center Online, a website that provides resources for refugees and displaced individuals, and is attending an elite soccer camp at the University of Portland.

The thoughtful teenager said he wants to convey how sorry he is for “not being able to deliver the donated items that people generously gave.”

“The support I got for this was really amazing,” he said. “I was very surprised.” 

katies@catholicsentinel.org

 

Find out more

If you donated to Felix Songolo’s efforts and would like to learn more about the project’s status, email felixsongolo@gmail.com.