Friday, December 18, 2015

‘Team of Heroes’ Makes the Holidays Bright for Ugandan Refugees

Recent Uganda refugees Hakia Ndabatiza and Flomina Nyirantereke with their children 

Spring Branch ISD Police Department Officer Connie Washington was dispatched to Spring Shadows Elementary School in the late afternoon on Monday, Dec. 14, about a call related to refugee students who hadn’t been picked up by their parents yet.

Today, Washington and many others inside the SBISD Police Dept. feel like they have 10 new family members. Since Monday, they have showered eight children and two parents who have few possessions with seasonal gifts, groceries and new clothing.

This story begins Monday afternoon when the three young children of recent Uganda refugees Hakia Ndabatiza and Flomina Nyirantereke returned from the Waterford Place Apartments to Spring Shadows Elementary. They would eventually spend the night at the elementary school, protected by their principal and Officer Washington.

Their school counselor, Demetra Rushing, and then school receptionist Bea Castillo walked the three children to their locked apartment twice before returning to the elementary. Their parents usually were at the front doors when the dismissal bell rang.

The refugee family, completely new to Spring Branch ISD, enrolled their children in October.

The parents of Jackson, who is in kindergarten, Erike in second grade, and Irene, who is now in fourth grade, had, in fact, became delayed for hours into the night when they boarded the wrong Metro bus after visiting Catholic Charities offices across town near Bellaire and Gessner.

When SBISD Police Officer Washington finally arrived at Spring Shadows Elementary, all seven children were gathered together. They include Viene and Esther, Spring Woods Middle students, and Amos and Peter, enrolled at Spring Woods High. The family has a 2-year-old child, too.

At the school, Spring Shadows Principal Rachel Martinez and Officer Washington made on-the-spot leadership decisions to remain with the refugee children in lieu of calling Child Protective Services immediately. They ordered pizza and tried to reach Hakia and Flomina.

“I told Mrs. Martinez that I would stay with her as long as I had to. To put their minds at ease, and to not worry about mom and dad, we colored, we played soccer, and we danced,” Officer Washington said. “I even learned about the music they listened to in Uganda.”

The refugee children and parents were eventually reunited at about 8 p.m. Monday. Since then, SBISD Police Cpl. Ray Gonzales and Officers Washington and Bern Collum joined others in being moved by how little the family had in its Waterford Place Apartment home.

They spent time this week shopping for gifts, food and clothing, and then delivered their gifts.

“We gave each child their gift, and gave mom and dad the groceries. It was the greatest feeling ever seeing how thankful and excited the family was. The love was great in the room,” Officer Washington said. Officer Collum gave a cash donation to the family.

“It takes a team to ensure that our children’s best interest is at the heart of everything we do,” said Principal Martinez. “I just want to thank the entire team for helping – our counselor and receptionist, and our friendly and loving officers who responded to the call.”

Principal Martinez said the school and SBISD Police response to this family’s sudden need “is one of the reasons I’m part of Spring Branch ISD, with district Collaborative Spirit and Moral Compass guiding us to do what is right for kids!”

“The ultimate winners in this situation were seven children that a ‘team of heroes’ kept safe,” said SBISD Police Chief Chuck Brawner.

Happy holidays!


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