NORTHAMPTON — Volunteers in the St. John’s Episcopal Church community waited months to welcome baby Wilson Nkundimana to the city, but food and sleep were all that interested the 13-month-old upon arrival Wednesday evening.
Maombi Mujawimana said through an interpreter that her son wasn’t able to eat anything available on the plane from Rwanda. The volunteers had planned for such an occasion, eagerly reaching for a pouch of mashed banana. He was skeptical at first, but spent the car ride from Bradley International Airport to Northampton emptying the pouch’s contents.
The volunteers, making up part of the volunteer “circle of care” assigned to the Congolese family, came with signs welcoming each member of the city’s new family, the eldest of whom spent two decades in a refugee camp in Rwanda. The volunteers also brought a large bag stocked with diapers, baby clothes, blankets and supplies.
Albert Ndagujimana strolled out to the platform near Terminal A and without hesitation shook hands with each member of the welcome party, grinning, while his wife loosened their child from the car. A light rain misted the group.
In one quick movement, Mujawimana hinged at the hips, bending forward as she shifted her toddler from her hips onto her back. Wilson knew the drill — he clutched onto his mother’s upper back as she tucked a blanket underneath him, wrapped it around her waist and tied it, tight. As she stood up, the blanket supported him and he smooshed his face into her back.
The family had been traveling for about 16 hours, they said, before Sara Amaroso offered them homemade peanut butter-chocolate brownies. Ndagujimana took a bite, grinning as his cheeks bulged.
The baby was already asleep by the time the caravan reached the family’s temporary housing in Northampton. His mother placed him on the couch, tucking his fluffy teddy bear under his head and laying two crocheted blankets over him.
Before the case worker and interpreter arrived, Judson Brown, co-leader of the volunteer group, asked those hovering in the living room: “Does anyone know how to ask, ‘Are you hungry?’”
“My iPhone might tell me,” said Dave Reckhow, a University of Massachusetts professor and one of the volunteers, looking to his device for guidance as Brown mimed spooning food into his mouth.
Seconds later, Reckhow’s phone spewed out a few words. Mujawimana looked surprised and nodded her head. Brown hurried into the kitchen.
Once volunteers showed them to the fully stocked fridge, the group made their way toward the door. As they did, the parents expressed their gratitude.
“I feel comforted, here, and supported,” Mujawimana said. “I’m hoping life is going to get better.”