Portraits of Concord Diversity: Morgan Mbuyi warmed up to his new community and now serves as a driving instructor

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 09-21-2023 5:52 PM

When Morgan Mbuyi first arrived in Concord in 2014, he hated the city. He hated the cold and the noise. He hadn’t seen his mother in 14 years. He had few friends and he missed his family.

“To get a job in Concord, it was not easy. It was very hard. When I came here at that time, there were not many Africans here. We went to look for jobs at hotels, Walmart, Goodwill and they would not take us,” Mbuyi said. “They were looking for previous references and I didn’t have them because I came from Africa. I came here during the winter time and I sometimes didn’t make appointments because I had to wait for public transportation and that took a while. I thought about going back because life was not good here.”

In time, Mbuyi started to adjust as more refugees from Africa were placed in Concord and the weather started to warm. Because he learned English in the refugee camp, he was able to talk with Americans better than his counterparts. Still, it took him almost a year to adapt to the shock of moving from a country on the equator to snowy northern New England.

During his adjustment period, he tried to work as a farmer but the cold season proved too much to endure and he took another job in Hopkinton as a licensed commercial truck driver. In 2018, he started working for Second Start as a driver’s education instructor for young immigrants and refugees.

The nonprofit helps New Americans and refugees who don’t speak English further their education and obtain driver's licenses to aid them in transportation, resources and job searches.

“I asked at the beginning to help train people from my community only because I was driving back home but here, with the language barriers, they needed an interpreter at the DMV,” Mbuyi said. “They started to ask me, ‘can you teach us to drive?’ ”

Seeing the value Mbuyi could bring to the community, Second Start sent him to school to get his teaching certification. Between teaching driving classes and providing transportation for students, he is a full-time employee of the nonprofit.

“With Second Start, it’s for people coming here to have a second chance. They can learn English and get back into school. It helps them to integrate and build in this new country,” Mbuyi said. “I like living here now, I have my family here, and I’m happy now.”

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The long road to getting here began with a matter of life or death. 

Fearful for his life as a government soldier, Mbuyi fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2000 when he was 23 years old in the bed of a farmer’s truck, choosing to risk his life as a refugee rather than as a militant in the army.

All around him, children and young adults were being taken from their homes and their families and forced onto the front lines of a war between the government and the rebels over land. For Mbuyi, like many others, his choice was to fight or flee.

If Mbuyi stayed, he would have been put on the front lines and likely would have been killed. If he was caught sneaking out of the country, undocumented and without proper identification, he faced death as a deserter.

He fled. He hid in the bed of a trailer for more than 1,200 miles down the coast of Africa until he reached Namibia, a safe haven that welcomed refugees.

“We were running from the government forcing us to join the army when we were young and everyone that didn’t want to join fled,” Mbuyi said. “If you joined the army, they would put you in the front and many people died. I said ‘no, I don’t want to die’ but they were forcing young boys to join. They give you guns, they teach you how to shoot and then they put you in the front of the battle. If you don’t defend yourself, you die.”

Around the time Mbuyi arrived, the number of documented refugees in Namibia continued to grow as war continued to spread. Most refugees in Namibia were Congolese while the rest came from Rwanda, Burundi and Zimbabwe. 

Once there, Mbuyi lived in a refugee encampment for 13 years where he taught social and environmental studies to children at the school and learned English. Ten years into his stay at the camp, the residents were given a choice – return to your home country or be taken to a new host country, like the United States, Canada, Australia and some European countries.

Mbuyi decided to go and came to Concord.

“There were conflicts happening all over Africa at that time and the United Nations wanted a more durable solution,” Mbuyi said. “We did not have a say in which country we went to. They just helped us, but we didn’t have a choice.”

From 2015 to 2022, New Hampshire took in 619 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than from any other country.

As Mbuyi embraced his new community, he welcomed those who came after him.

Editor’s note: All this week, the Monitor will publish a series of profiles to highlight the city’s growing diversity in advance of the Concord Multicultural Festival, held Sunday, Sept. 24 at Keach Park from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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