Aliceritah Nabacwa and her 5-year-old son Elmer were among the first asylum seekers to stay at Vive’s converted rectory.
The Uganda woman and her son had been temporarily staying in Vive's shelter on Wyoming Avenue in Buffalo while they waited for an appointment with Canadian immigration officials.
But the dormitory-style accommodations weren’t ideal for children.
Elmer, who has learned to use the men’s room by himself, wasn’t allowed to do so at the shelter.
“I trained him to be independent,” Nabacwa said. But now she had to convince him to come into the ladies room with her. He resisted. “No, no, no, no,” he told his mother.
Two days after arriving at Vive, they were transferred to the rectory, which has small, separate rooms.
“It was homey and peaceful,” she said. They slept on cots until the night before Nabacwa’s appointment in Canada. That day – Nabacwa’s birthday – real beds arrived. “On my birthday, you bring me a bed,” she said with a smile.
Nabacwa and her son were fleeing Uganda, where Nabacwa was a social worker involved with HIV/AIDS prevention and care. Uganda has anti-gay laws and Nabacwa said the government detained her on multiple instances because of her activism.
She was in Seattle at an HIV conference when she got an email from a co-worker in Uganda: “Alice, wherever you are. Do not come back. They are looking for you guys again.”
In a panic, she called home to her mother who was watching Elmer. Her mother said some people had come to the house, asking where she was.
“I was devastated. I was confused. My little boy was there,” Nabacwa said.
She began researching how to get asylum, first in the U.S. and then Canada where her husband, Elmer’s father, lives in Alberta. She arranged for Elmer to come to the U.S. It would take her at least a few years to get an asylum hearing in the U.S.
Through Google, she learned of Vive and its work to help immigrants apply for asylum in Canada. She booked a flight for herself and her son to Buffalo to seek help from the nonprofit.
“I salute Anna. She’s a mother. She’s a friend to everyone,” she said of Vive’s executive director, Anna Ireland.
Nabacwa’s husband met her at the border on March 24. After a series of interviews, she was given her papers, allowing her to legally stay in Canada, at least temporarily.
“Am so happy,” she wrote in an email the following week.
Photo gallery: Asylum seekers want freedom
Dr. Anna Ireland Mongo calls an appliance repair service to fix a broken washer at the Vive Shelter, a program of Jericho Road Community Health Center. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)