Volume XI | Issue 2 | Fall 2011
Richard Kitumba has not forgotten his native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is the founder of the City of Refuge International, which aids the Congolese. Photo: Courtesy of Richard Kitumba

Recalling his past

Scholar escapes war-torn country, returns to make a difference

Twenty-five years ago, Richard Kitumba was a child living in the midst of a violent civil war. The Springfield resident, now 36, grew up in Democratic Republic of the Congo, a war-torn region of eastern Africa.

“The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country where political, social and economic instabilities are routine,” Kitumba says. 

my dream was finally going to come true

“Throughout my life, war has been known to break out without warning. For anyone who lives in a country like the DRC, every day is about survival. Many nights I went to bed wondering if I would still be alive the next morning.”

Kitumba narrowly escaped the violence of his home country, and today he is dedicated to helping those who remain through the foundation he founded, City of Refuge International. Along the way, he settled in Springfield, married, became a Ford ReStart Scholar and is now a student at the University of Oregon.

Kitumba’s journey began in 1998, when he came to the United States after working as a translator for American missionaries. After traveling around North America, he returned to the DRC in 2005 with a team of volunteers from a Springfield church, who invited him to move to Springfield and start the nonprofit organization. “I felt like my dream was finally going to come true, and it has,” he says.

Ford ReStart Scholar

After moving to Springfield, he married and began working toward his associate degree at Lane Community College

“During this time, I heard about the Ford scholarship program from my wife, Erin Wolff Kitumba, and decided to apply for it,” he says. He was accepted as a Ford ReStart Scholar in 2008. He is now a senior in the Family and Human Services program at the University of Oregon. 

After graduation, Kitumba plans to continue his education, working toward a graduate degree in planning, public policy and management with a specialization in nonprofit management.

He also plans to continue his work to expand the City of Refuge International, helping as many people as he can. “Since childhood, compassion has fueled my desire to empower the people of the DRC and to stand up in the fight against worldwide poverty and injustice,” he says. 

City of Refuge International

When Richard Kitumba launched the City of Refuge International, he did so with an eye toward sustainability. He built the organization up from the local level, using community services as much as possible and focusing on efforts that will be sustainable. 

“For example, all of the food purchased for our programs is bought in the local market and from local farmers,” Kitumba explains. “Our children attend public schools, where school fees help pay the salaries of local teachers. Clothing and shoes are also purchased locally, with local tailors and business owners profiting. When a child in our program is sick, they stay at a local hospital and are treated by a Congolese doctor. In addition to education, the agricultural and livestock development programs provide assistance coupled with training and opportunities for self-sufficiency. All of our staff are Congolese, eliminating the costs and cultural challenges of working through translators. 

“Ultimately, if we were to try and count the number of people being helped through our efforts, it would number in the thousands.”

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