|Western Alliance Bank||The Primavera Foundation||
$15,000 WISH Grant
Athanase Kabayiza and his wife Agnes Mukandayiseng welcome visitors to their home with huge smiles and even bigger hugs, clearly delighted to have an opportunity to put faces to the organizations that have played a part in helping them put a difficult past behind them.
“Our country, Rwanda, was at war, and so many people died. Around 6 million people left. I walked away, 5,000 kilometers, through the Congo to the Central African Republic,” Athanase explains. “It was very difficult, there was nothing to eat, nothing to drink, and behind us were people with guns, wanting to kill us.”
Though Athanase and Agnes fled the 1994 genocide in their native Rwanda separately, both took refuge in the Central African Republic, where they met, married, and brought their first child, a boy named Muhoza, into the world, far from their friends and families. In 2012, a brutal civil war in the Central African Republic drove the family to seek permanent resettlement in the United States.
“I was born into a good family, a rich family,” Agnes says. But when the conflict began in Rwanda, she was separated from her mother, father, and nine siblings. “We lost everything, too.” Now Agnes is looking forward to soon being reunited by the Red Cross with her mother and a sister, family members she hasn’t seen in more than 20 years.
When they arrived in the United States as refugees, the resettlement agency that received them housed them temporarily. “After six months, you have to find a way to rent a house, a home to live in,” Athanase says. “One of my refugee friends told me about Primavera. I explained my situation to them and they said we are welcome!”
The Primavera Foundation of Tucson provides pathways out of poverty through safe, affordable housing, workforce development, and neighborhood revitalization. The family moved into Primavera’s transitional rental housing, and immediately started working with Lupita Rodriguez, Homeownership Program Coordinator, to establish a credit history, the first step toward the goal of homeownership.
Athanase and Agnes enthusiastically participated in Primavera’s homebuyer education and asset-building programs, learning how to budget and save. Starting from zero, the couple saved $5,000 in a year and a half. “I knew right off the bat that they were on top of it,” Lupita says.
Through member Western Alliance Bank, the Bank’s WISH first-time homebuyer program matched $3 for every $1 saved by the family. Primavera Director of Homeownership, Gloria Vasquez, notes the importance of being able to use WISH grants with other funding sources. In this case, Primavera was able to combine the $15,000 WISH grant with funds available from the Neighborhood LIFT program, enabling the couple to make a $35,000 downpayment on a 3-bedroom home.
Because of the large downpayment they were able to make, the family’s monthly mortgage payments are manageable on one salary. Athanase works full-time as a Patient Care Technician and Certified Nursing Assistant while he works toward a third certification as a Licensed Practical Nurse at Pima Community College.
While she continues to improve her English language skills and prepares to get her driver’s license, Agnes is able to stay home to care for five-year-old Mohusa and the family’s newest addition, a charming two-year old daughter appropriately named Magnifique. A nurse in Africa, ultimately Agnes will return to working in the healthcare industry, like her husband.
Both children are delighted to have company in the house, and Magnifique and Pamela Gorder, Western Alliance Bank CRA Analyst, become fast friends during the visit. Pamela is proud that her bank participates in the WISH Program not to get a good CRA grade, but because it's the right thing to do. “A lot of my job is data and numbers, and when you work in banking you never think you’re going to have an experience like this,” Pamela says. “This is a big deal, and when I think of what we’ve done with the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco over the years, it's affected a lot of families, and it’s tangible. It makes me so happy.”
Lupita believes that her work with Primavera is all about happy endings. With their own home providing a safe haven, the family is adjusting well to their new life. They feel welcomed in their new community and grateful for the acceptance, and the help, they have received since arriving. “I am happy,” Agnes says. “I have America, I have a house, I have my family. I feel like a person again. And I'm happy all of you came to spend the day with me!”