Though he lived in Boise for only nine days, Dieudonne Eca was sent off by a crowd of around 350 people at Calvary Chapel on Saturday morning.
The 15-year-old, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, drowned at Quinn’s Pond last weekend just after his family of six arrived in Boise from a refugee camp in Malawi where they’d spent the past decade.
Because of their recent arrival, the Eca family worried no one would come to celebrate Dieudonne’s life. In their culture, said International Rescue Committee director Julianne Donnelly Tzul, it’s important to have the community gather for funerals.
“Dieudonne’s father said, ‘Americans are so efficient. They’re so busy. What if no one has time to come?’ ” said Donnelly Tzul.
Instead, hundreds of people poured into the chapel for a two-hour service, where Dieudonne was memorialized both in English and Swahili.
His death, Donnelly Tzul said, “will mark the oral tradition of this community for years to come.”
Though some resources exist in the Treasure Valley for refugees to learn to swim (a skill many of them haven’t been taught), Donnelly Tzul said there are barriers like language, registration and transportation that keep many from taking the classes. In the wake of Dieudonne’s death, Donnelly Tzul said she’s had offers from swim teachers to meet with refugees at swimming pools near their apartments to help teach swimming lessons and water safety.
That sort of support for the refugee community means a lot, Donnelly Tzul said — whether it’s the multitude of churches that offered to host Dieudonne’s services or the hundreds of people who raised $14,000 to help offset funeral costs.
“You can see in people’s eyes how it’s affecting them,” said Donnelly Tzul, who has watched the emotions of the teenager’s death ripple through the refugee community.
“Even if there’s never a word spoken about our feelings for this child, we both know that they’re there,” she added.
The African refugee community in the Treasure Valley spans a vast swath of countries, but pastor Onesphore Ntakarutimana of Light Mission Pentecostal church told mourners their faith in God unites them.
“We don’t have citizenship in America,” he said, “but our citizenship is in heaven.”