Interview for

Wendpoulemde

7/6/2021

Interviewed By:

Claire Schmeller

Date Interviewed:

Audio Recording of Interview
00:00 / 1:04:21
Summary

An asylum seeker from Burkina Faso, Wendpoulemde relays the experiences of violence that led him to flee to the United States, including religious persecution. He also describes his experience of family separation, struggling to work during COVID-19, mobilizing youth in his community, and forming a chosen family through church.

Transcript
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Additional Notes
Outline

Narrator: Wendpoulemde

Date: 07/06/21

Location: Bronx, NY


Content Warning: Descriptions of loss, family separation

Summary: An asylum seeker from Burkina Faso, Wendpoulemde relays the experiences of violence that led him to flee to the United States, including religious persecution. He also describes his experience of family separation, struggling to work during COVID-19, mobilizing youth in his community, and forming a chosen family through church.

Topics: violence, democracy, family separation, language barrier, religion (Catholic), friendship, faith in humanity, immigration


Outline

Section 1: (0:00 - 10:31)

  • Organizing - Used his economics degree to start a youth-focused organization to spur growth in his local community.

  • Politics - President Blaise Campaore proposed a referendum to eliminate term limits in 2014 and Wendpoulemde supported a vote on the subject in the name of democracy.

  • Violence - The meeting of the National Assembly was interrupted by protestors who set fire to the building and set out on a campaign to wound and/or kill those who supported such an act.

Section 2: (10:31 - 17:29)

  • Religion - He was born Catholic and founded his association in line with the call he received through his faith to care for the poor. Burkina Faso has become increasingly hostile to Christians.

  • Hiding - Moved to the village where he grew up to escape the protestors who were targeting those present at the National Assembly. Couldn’t leave the house or exercise his religion because he feared being discovered. His village was small and without resources, meaning he didn’t even have access to water.

Section 3: (17:29 - 28:18)

  • Escape - Felt relief when his visa came through for a UN-sponsored event. Has the freedom to go to mass on Sunday without any danger.

  • Family - First looked for a makeshift family in the United States through the church. He discovered the Community of Sant’Egidio and has been able to help the poor and serve his calling.

  • Language barrier - Struggled to communicate upon arrival because he couldn’t understand or speak English. He didn’t improve for a few months because there was just no one with whom to practice the language. Took the TOEFL test to determine his English level and was able to enroll in grad school.

  • Doubt - Felt like going back home briefly, but ultimately couldn’t even consider it because of danger. Had to work through the difficulties that the language barrier provided instead. It is very sad still to think about the family and home he left behind.

Section 4: (28:18 - 36:03)

  • Family separation - His mother moved to the Ivory Coast for protection and speaks as often as possible with his siblings who have also fled. Even though he is financially and safely stable, he feels an emotional pain and lack. His mother often struggles to keep up morale on their phone calls.

  • COVID-19 - Struggled to keep working as a taxi driver during the pandemic. No one was taking rides, so money was tight. He got COVID-19 and took a while to recover, although he was able to recover fully.

  • Meaning of home - Home is where people grow. Finding a church and American friends who are basically family helps him find courage and company.

Section 5: (36:03 - 49:15)

  • Adjusting to surroundings - Had to adapt to everyday things like taking the train or using maps, because Burkina Faso doesn’t have those things. He was able to find people who knew French from his church and from the Community of Sant’Egidio. This helped him find some form of communication and those individuals taught him how to successfully transition between French and English.

  • Friends as family - He found a man who he considers his “American dad” through the Community of Sant’Egidio. This adopted father taught him how to drive and motivated his current career choices. His “American mom” has helped him with the price of college and been a real friend to him.

  • Restored faith in humanity - He was worried about America because of what you hear about racism and violence, but these meaningful interactions have resulted in a restoration of his faith in Americans/humanity.

Section 6: (49:58 - 57:33)

  • Transferring personal mission - His work in Burkina Faso was intended to give back and help the poor through a mobilization of youth in his community. He has taken this mission into his work today, especially through the Community of Sant’Egidio.

  • Teaching - He teaches English to other newly immigrated individuals/refugees. This allows him to learn with others and teach what he already knows from a relatable perspective.

  • Growth through religion - His studies and work with the Sant’Egidio Foundation for Peace and Dialogue have been inspired by his religion and will allow him to channel peace through his own belief.

Section 7: (57:33 - 1:04.14)

  • Immigration - His request for asylum has been in process for 5 years, so he cannot leave the country to go see his family in the safe places where they have moved. This waiting is difficult to process emotionally, although he works to contain his emotions.

  • Seeking asylum - This could be dangerous when criminals enter the country and run rampant, but it also serves as an opportunity for immigrants to prove themselves