MSOC : Extended family: In transition to US, SU’s Agbossoumonde and family relied on support network

first_img Comments Published on April 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Michael: [email protected] | @Michael_Cohen13 Finding Refuge: Part 2 of 3Guy Hart laughed as the Agbossoumondes battled their knee-high boots. After plucking the Togolese refugee family from the Syracuse Hancock International Airport, he brought them directly to Kmart.‘Of course they’re not used to wearing heavy things on their feet, and here they are in snow boots,’ said Hart, the family’s sponsor. ‘It was really funny.’Though the boots posed problems, the rest of the store was a playground. After the family endured seven years in refugee camps in Benin, this strange place had unrecognizable objects that had to be examined.‘Wide-eyed. Absolute wonderment,’ Hart said. ‘They’d never seen anything like it. They were like kids in a candy store.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHart and his wife bought pants, shirts, jackets and toys for the new Syracuse residents. Their apartment on Green Street, which was provided by Catholic Charities of Onondaga County, needed to be filled.Catholic Charities had reached out to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bridgeport, N.Y., asking if anyone would be willing to sponsor refugee families. Hart and his wife agreed and became the personal sponsors of the Agbossoumondes.During the first few weeks, the Harts saw them almost every day. They explained how to use a stove, a washing machine and any other foreign device that Mawuena Agbossoumonde — currently a sophomore midfielder on the SU men’s soccer team — and his family had never seen.‘We didn’t know (Hart) before we came,’ said Djifa, Mawuena’s older brother. ‘But we heard there would be a lot of people waiting to help us.’And what Djifa and his family heard proved to be true. Since their arrival in February 2000, it’s the network of support the Agbossoumondes have received from the community that drives them.Multiple families have assisted in the development of Mawuena and his siblings in Syracuse, stemming from compassion and appreciation for the character and backstory of the entire bunch.For that, the family is eternally grateful. Mawuena realizes he wouldn’t be where he is today were it not for their assistance.‘I can’t really describe it because there were so many people on the way,’ he said. ‘Growing up, there were so many people that helped us.’***Karma, fate and providence. Those are the words Kenneth Schoening uses to describe how the Agbossoumonde family got to where it is today.Less than two months after the six children and their mother, Adjo, arrived in Syracuse, Schoening initiated their soccer careers.Coaching his son’s East Side Soccer team in Berry Park during April 2000, Schoening had the gumption to approach two African boys with ‘sad, long faces.’ A migrant from Africa himself, Schoening conversed with the two in French. He invited them into his practice, and a few weeks later Mawuena and his younger brother Gale were part of the team.‘I always try to go back and say, ‘What if I hadn’t run into them?” Schoening said. ‘What if I hadn’t walked up to them? Would they have been where they are now?’Where they are now is quite remarkable. Mawuena is at Syracuse, and Gale, his younger brother, plays professionally in Sweden and made an appearance with the U.S. National Team in November. Their older brother, Messan, played soccer at St. Lawrence.But before all that came East Side Soccer, a recreational league. There, Mawuena was introduced to Daniel McGowan and Kenneth’s son Charles. Both would eventually be Mawuena’s teammates at Syracuse.Through that team, Schoening introduced the Agbossoumonde boys to the Syracuse Indoor Sports Center in Liverpool, N.Y. It became a second home.The original owner, Bob Escobar, said Mawuena and Gale were there almost every day after school playing until the center closed for the night. He never charged them because he knew they wouldn’t have been able to pay.He just wanted to give them an outlet.‘To me it’s tremendous,’ Escobar said in a phone interview. ‘I look at this and know that I was part of it and helped to provide them something when they were in real need of it.’Schoening and Escobar got Mawuena and Gale involved with the Syracuse Blitz F.C. — a traveling premier team that practiced at the Indoor Sports Center. It’s what allowed their names to begin swirling among college and high school coaches later on.In all those years — from the time Mawuena was 10 until he enrolled at Christian Brothers Academy — Schoening will never forget the winter of 2000-01. Less than a year after Mawuena’s arrival, he and Gale won their first trophy on Schoening’s team.It was a lasting achievement for the former refugees.‘It was like gold to (Mawuena),’ Schoening said. ‘One of the older brothers made a comment and said, ‘You know, Coach, back in Africa, this is like gold for us to have something like this.”***Nick Ashenburg wasn’t sure how Anani found his way onto the Syracuse Blitz, but he was curious about the newcomer. So when Anani — the fourth of the six Agbossoumonde brothers — needed a ride home, he asked Nick’s parents to help.‘I think we were all intrigued,’ Nick said. ‘So one ride turned into many rides, and many rides turned into coming over to the house and spending holidays together.’That one ride was the beginning of what would effectively become an invitation by the Ashenburgs for the Agbossoumondes to join their family.With Anani and Nick playing together on the Blitz, the Ashenburgs were introduced to the rest of the family. Nick’s younger brother Ben would become a teammate of Mawuena’s at CBA after his family helped get him into the school.Ben and Mawuena became best friends.‘Mawuena and Ben lived like brothers,’ said Alicia Ashenburg, the mother of Ben and Nick. ‘They went to school together every day. They came home together almost every day from eighth to 12th grade. And then they went to practice together. They were literally like glue.’Mawuena began playing varsity soccer for CBA in the eighth grade. He played four seasons of soccer at CBA and was named to the 2006 Post-Standard All-CNY First Team. In his senior year, he was the kicker for the football team.Between school, homework and soccer, Alicia washed Mawuena’s school uniform nearly every night. And the whole family helped the young boys with schoolwork.‘The Ashenburg family kind of like took me in as their son,’ Mawuena said. ‘They helped me with everything.’The help was appreciated by Adjo, who worked on an assembly line as her first job. She later worked for Arcom and then at the old Hotel Syracuse. Often, she worked two jobs at once.The Ashenburgs had the family over for holidays as well. Ben, Nick and their mother all remember the Christmas of 2001, in which they took most of the Agbossoumondes to a midnight mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.After the mass, the Ashenburgs gave gifts to the Agbossoumondes. The prize was an Xbox.‘They were just so happy and so grateful,’ Ben said. ‘And now they’re giving us presents. It’s really just come full circle.’***Inside the St. Francis of Assisi Parish, the success of the Agbossoumonde family resonates. Pinned to the Youth Events bulletin board is a story from The Catholic Sun about Mawuena and his sister Dovenin.Directly beneath it is a newsletter requesting contributions for a linen drive that benefits the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program.Perhaps it’s a sign. Above is the example of what a refugee family can become. Below is what one can do to give another family a chance to be like the Agbossoumondes.‘We’ve remained very close personal friends,’ Hart said. ‘Not just my family with them, but other families in our parish have maintained that type of relationship with them.’The people of the parish aren’t alone. Mawuena and his family have remained close with everyone who has helped them since their arrival in Syracuse. And now that they are settled, they give back.L.J. Papaleo, Mawuena’s teammate at SU, went through a devastating stretch in which both of his grandparents passed away in the span of two weeks. By his side was Mawuena, asking to attend the funeral services.‘That meant a lot because he didn’t know my grandparents,’ Papaleo said. ‘He knew me, and he knew we needed someone to lean on in a hard time.’McGowan, who played with Mawuena years ago through East Side Soccer, said his choice to come to Syracuse was based largely on Mawuena being here to help him transition.‘I transferred from Hamilton College mainly because Mawuena was here,’ he said. ‘If he wasn’t here, I probably wouldn’t have come.’Looking back on where they were, Adjo said she could never have imagined a life like this. Coming from where they did, it seemed absurd.But Papaleo didn’t see it unfolding any differently. The Agbossoumondes entered the hearts of the people in the Syracuse community so quickly that their bright future was inevitable.‘They’re such great people that you want to help them,’ Papaleo said. ‘If it wasn’t these three or four families we’ve been talking about, it would have been three or four other families. Everyone wants to help them.‘It wouldn’t have been a problem for them to succeed here in America.’[email protected]center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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