This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Orem • Eumbo Kasongo puts on a pair of scrubs to go to work. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he's seen people use them as church clothes.
"Over here, we don't even consider it clothes," said Kasongo, a refugee and former child soldier.
Kasongo became a surgical technician at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem after coming to the United States with his mother and five siblings in 2008. He's since attended an English as a Second Language program, attended Salt Lake Community College and Everest College and started a nonprofit organization with his family, the John Kasonga Foundation, to help others in the Congo.
And although when he left the Congo he had no intention of ever returning, he went back in January to get a group of children to safety and has plans to return there again in December.
"The refugee doesn't have any life," Kasongo said.
Seeing the opportunities that have been available in U.S. made Kasongo realize he needed to go back. He's received more than $3,500 from other Timpanogos Regional Hospital employees and from the hospital's parent company, HCA, to make returning to the Congo and bettering others' lives a reality.
But his first trip back wasn't easy. Kasongo, now a U.S. citizen, didn't know he needed a visa to get from Zambia to the Congo and he was arrested at the border. He tried again at a different border and was able to get in after bribing officials into giving him a Congolese ID.
He was arrested again on his way out of the country and was able to bribe them to get out.
He wound up taking some of the children to Zambia, and he said others were moved to a safe place.
Employees at the Orem hospital donated resources like clothes, shoes and blankets for him to give out in the Congo. He's still collecting items he'll bring when he returns in December.
Kasongo's family was in a refugee camp when they wound up on a United Nations list to come to the U.S., something he considers a miracle from God.
His mother was in the camp for nine years and he spent four years in the camp. There, they lived in a tent and cultivated their own food. He didn't wear shoes, there wasn't any school and there were diseases too many Kasongo said.
"To be in the camp, it is a whole different life," he said.
There is fighting between tribes and also between the government and rebels. It's led to a lot of death and refugees struggling to find a safe place to live. The country has been a war zone since it was established in 1960 and over half a million refugees have left the country.
At the age of nine, Kosongo was taken and forced to become a child soldier. At 14, he was able to escape that life.
Kasongo remembers being with a group of child soldiers inside their tent with their 16-year-old leader when the leader announced they should leave that night.
Six of them ran. But not everyone got out.
"It was raining," Kasongo said. "They shot at us as we run and I could hear bam! Bam! If you are trying to skip in the military, they are going to kill you or they will shoot your mom or your family. You do what they ask you to do."
He tried to go into Zambia, was arrested and then sent to the refugee camp.
Due to his time in the military, he's not afraid when he encounters soldiers in the Congo because Kasongo said he knows what they want. He was trained in the military to ask what somebody had. The soldiers would then take it because they weren't getting paid.
Kasongo is one of 13 siblings. Five are with him and his mother in the U.S. Some are in the Congo. Others are deceased, like his father, who died when he tried to cross from the Congo to Zambia.
Once he was in Utah, Kasongo's family got sick from the cold, January weather. He saw the hospitals here, which were unlike anything he'd ever seen before. They inspired him to become a surgical technician, a job he loves.
He has a passion for the U.S., which he refers to as a paradise.
"Compared to my country, we kill each other," Kasongo said. "We are the African people, the Congolese people, and we kill each other over I don't know what."
But a new country has also come with a lot of adjustments. He's had to get used to sitting on a toilet, wearing shoes that made his feet feel heavy at first and learn not to constantly feel scared. His family doesn't like fireworks, which mimic the sound of gunfire.
"Once they go boom, I feel my body shake," Kasongo said.
He's received a lot of help from people in Utah, including the donations from coworkers to go back to the Congo and help others.
"I feel so loved," Kasongo said. "This is a great nation."