GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A decade ago, Onorina Mulasi, her son Wilondje and her three other children fled their home country — the violence-stricken Congo.
“We didn’t have peace. There were a lot of conflicts,” Mulasi explained to 24 Hour News 8 Friday with the help of a translator.
Her family made it to Kenya where they lived in a refugee camp until March, when they finally had a chance to escape the violence for good by coming to West Michigan.
“We feel hopeful. We have hope (now),” Wilondje said.
Part of that hope comes from a new program.
Bethany Christian Services, which helps with refugee resettlement, has partnered with Airbnb for the homesharing service’s Open Homes initiative.
Homeowners can sign up to host refugees for free. The stay can range from a couple days to a couple weeks until permanent housing is sorted out.
Mulasi and her children stayed with their host family for six days.
“It’s a great thing for us as an agency,” said Dana Anderson, who works for Bethany Christian Services. “It’s a great thing for the family who’s opening their doors. And it’s a great things for a refugee family to have somebody when they immediately come, to just be with them.”
Bethany Christian Services says since it started the partnership last fall, more than two dozen refugees have already stayed at host homes.
The program helps the nonprofit group avoid using hotels, saving money that can help refugees in other ways.
It also addresses the constant need for temporary refugee housing, which can arise quickly.
“This week we got two days’ notice of a family of 12 coming in. So imagine you had two days to find a suitable house for a family of 12. Than can be a challenge,” Anderson explained.
For Mulasi and her family, the host family made them feel welcome.
Now, they’re learning English, taking classes and looking forward to a fresh start.
“I sleep well. I feel peace now,” Mulasi said.
“I would love to live here forever. If my permissions are granted, this is my home forever,” Wilondje said.
Airbnb conducts screenings and background checks on both the host families and refugee families to make sure the situation is safe.
Host families don’t get paid, but Airbnb offers reimbursement for any property damage that may occur.