Commitment to education
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent January 25, 2013 2:32PM
After enduring many hardships in the Democratic Republic of Congo to receive an education, Liripa Floribert Buki of Bolingbrook recently graduated from Lewis University in Romeoville with bachelor of science degree in business administration.
Updated: February 28, 2013 6:35AM
Attending school in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Liripa Floribert Buki of Bolingbrook grew up meant eating just one meal every few days, walking five miles to school, dodging bullets and paying his monthly school fees through washing dishes, cutting grass and hair and cleaning the missionaries’ dormitories.
Those efforts were more than worth it.
“I never did fail school not once in my entire life,” said Buki, a December 2012 graduate of Lewis University in Romeoville.
Had it not been for the Rhesus factor, Buki might never have earned his bachelor of science degree in business administration. In 2007, when his wife, Sarah, was 22 weeks pregnant with the couple’s first child, Liam Buki, now 4, the couple had a health scare that brought them to the United States.
Sarah, originally from Illinois, was Rh negative, which meant that unless she received a RhoGAM injection by 28 weeks, she’d risk developing antibodies that could harm the blood cells of the unborn baby and any future babies if they were Rh positive. Buki obtained his immigrant visa, but his Congolese law degree, which he had worked so hard to obtain, was useless.
“My dream was to practice law by defending raped women and children who were forced into the military,” Buki said. “Instead, I was in America with a pregnant wife, no health insurance, no job and no transportation.
“Although I had gone through wars my entire life, it was very difficult in America. I applied at several institutions and it was almost if people simply ignored my application.”
Buki was accustomed to challenges. As a boy, he had hoped to become a soccer star. Instead, Buki grew up with seven siblings. Buki’s father was a security guard for a government mining company.
His mother funded primary school for five of the children by carrying sugar cane to the local market, where she also sold tomatoes and onions.
This devoted Catholic and altar boy then attended the Petit Seminaire (the priests’ school) for one year until his parents could no longer afford it. Next, Buki attended Idap/Isp/Bunia, reputed as the best school in the district.
In 1996, Laurent Kabila overthrew the government and children as young as 11 were forced to enlist in the military.
The country divided into four areas; the government controlled one and rebel groups controlled the rest. The rebels formed militias that raped, killed and massacred as well as kidnapped children and tortured anyone who did not agree with them. Buki and his family escaped to the forests and lived there for months.
A dangerous childhood
Buki recalls the day he became a humanitarian.
“I saw a woman carrying her wounded son, badly burned,” Buki said. “She needed assistance and I was there at just the right time to help. My family brought this lady with her son to stay with us.”
Tribal wars soon began, and Buki attended school under bullets. The area was filled with “booby trap” mines; children were killed while playing with grenades. Buki stopped playing soccer for fear of winding up dead.
In 2002, Buki was caught in gunfire while taking his government exam. A man opened his door to hide him from the militia. Buki hid underneath a bed to survive. In 2003, Buki, then 17, joined the Youth Gathering for the Development of the Congo and represented the youth of the Ituri district at a United Nations peace conference among the fighting tribes.
Because of it, Buki and his entire family were threatened; they fled to the United Nations headquarters in Bunia. Later that year, Buki began attending Official University of Bukavu. In 2005, he met Sarah, a Christian, who had come from Illinois to help oppressed people.
An American education
Buki’s first job in the United States paid so little, he could not support his small family. So in 2008, Buki began working in the storeroom department at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet. He set two goals: Learn academic English and earn a new degree.
In May 2011, Buki graduated with an associate degree in applied science in business administration and then signed up for Lewis University’s fast-track program. Buki is currently working on his master’s degree. He and Sarah are now also the parents of Tristan Buki, 2.
Buki has served as a board member of Women in War Zones, a decision support analyst for the strategic department of the medical center, international development coordinator for Sow Hope International and member of the Speakers Bureau for the Covenant Congo Kids Project.
His goal is to become a top-performing employee at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center and play key roles within international organizations. Buki travels to the Congo each year. In September, he returned for his father’s funeral. He also helps his mother financially.
“It always feels good to go back to the Congo,” Buki said. “The community is welcoming and they know the level of attachment I have with the people locally.”