Beatrice Chambo, '21, Economics, Peace & International Studies

Tanzania native Beatrice Chambo is helping refugees settle in Kansas City

A Rockhurst senior from Tanzania is helping fellow immigrants find their own new beginnings.

Beatrice Chambo knows the anxieties and challenges of leaving your home country for another. When she came to the U.S. four years ago, little did Chambo know she’d be working with refugees in Kansas City and meeting people from home in the middle of the United States – including her future husband.

Tanzania is home to one of the world’s largest refugee camps, home to refugees from nearby Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. Chambo wanted to work in programs aiding refugees, so she came to the U.S. to study international relations.

Chambo transferred to Rockhurst in spring 2021 and will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree after double majoring in Economics and Peace & International Studies.

Along the way she began working for Catholic Charities in Kansas City, Kansas, in its New Roots for Refugees program. The initiative “empowers families from the refugee community to start farm businesses by growing and selling produce through farmer’s markets, wholesale, and the New Roots Farm Share.”

Chambo got the position in part because she is bilingual (Swahili) and her ability to connect with people.

“I met refugees from countries I did not even know existed,” she said. “That really opened up my eyes to the whole issue of refugees, not just in terms of where I come from, but globally.

“I would translate occasionally in Swahili, but we also had people that spoke Burmese, and these were mainly from Burma (or Myanmar),” she continued. “Then we had people from the Congo where they speak French, they speak English, they speak Swahili, so we needed to incorporate interpreters in the process.”

Chambo’s first position was helping new residents quarantining in hotels due to COVID-19 find food. To ease the transition into the U.S. she brought food from unique places that was similar to what they were used to eating in their respective home countries.  

Her next job was to teach refugees the business side of farming because most of them were farmers, or familiar working in agriculture in their home countries. Chambo helped them understand how business works in the U.S. with farmers insurance, credit, record-keeping and taxes.

Among the most rewarding experiences for herself and the program was helping a woman from Somalia start a cleaning business.

“She cleaned offices and businesses with a partner, but she was looking to start her own business, sort of independent and like a sole proprietorship,” Chambo said. “So, we helped her register the business online with the state and the IRS, because she didn't know how to do that, and we helped her create business cards and flyers for her business. We also worked with mentors who connected her to events where she could get potential clients. We bought her cleaning supplies because she was starting off and she didn't have much. I think that was really cool, and it stood out for me because she was the only person that was able to actually establish a new business that did not own a previous business. I think that was kind of a big milestone for that program at that time.”

Chambo ended up with a life milestone of her own after meeting someone from her home country here in Kansas City. He helped Beatrice when she first came to the U.S. with rides, where to buy groceries, how to get a debit card, and how to cope with the cold.

“I had never experienced fall before,” she said. “It was really cold for me – I never experienced winter and he had a car, so he took me around.”

Despite being from the same area in Tanzania they had never met, but got to know each other in Kansas City and were married in February 2021.

Her husband graduated from UMKC, and Beatrice will soon be a graduate of Rockhurst. She hopes to continue with Catholic Charities for now as she is passionate about working with refugees and being in a non-profit organization.

“I really think you can make a difference anywhere, but I felt like there's more impact working with people directly,” she said. “I do not diminish people who sell products or services, they also impact people in a different way, but I feel I have a special heart and want to impact people that are starting out fresh coming to a new country where they do not know the language, they do not know the culture and they've been through trauma.

“So, I think being an immigrant myself in this country I can kind of give a perspective of what that's like and give help. Whatever struggles you've been through, things are gonna change,” she continued. “Things are gonna be different here. There's democracy and you get all the rights as a citizen here. You get social security, you can apply for citizenship after a number of years, so you kind of get a new beginning.”