Dola Sitare has never backed away from a challenge.
While growing up in Kinsha, Congo, in a household of 17 family members, Dola – the youngest child – was expected to do the cooking, cleaning and errands for everyone else.
So she did.
When Sitare and her children came to America as refugees in 2010, her husband, Rizo, was not yet cleared to join them. Sitare’s social worker told her she would need to get a job to support her four kids (then ranging in age from 14 to 3), and the job would have to be one that allowed her to drop off and pick up her youngest every day from childcare.
So she did.
After Sitare’s husband also came to America, she took an office coordinator position at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, where her ability to speak seven languages made her the ideal welcoming committee to greet newcomers from around the world.
Before long, the indomitable Sitare decided to become a foster parent for LSSND’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program, providing long-term support for refugee youths who arrive in the U.S. without a parent or adult relative. Then URM case managers approached her about a family of six children moving from Nigeria to Fargo. They needed foster parents who didn’t mind taking a larger group of siblings.
She didn’t mind, so she did.
It’s not too surprising, then, that Sitare now capably runs a household of 13 (she and Rizo had another daughter since moving to America) while working full-time. Or that she runs their home with great efficiency, with chore charts so the oldest kids know when it’s their turn to do dishes or to help with laundry. Or that anyone who visits their five-bedroom, four-bath house would find an orderly household with kids doing homework at a set time or contentedly playing on game stations or iPads in their rooms.
While others marvel over how she does it, Sitare views it as nothing remarkable. “It’s normal to me,” she says, referring to her big family in the Congo. “I know I can handle it.”
It has also helped to have foster children who lived in refugee camps and experienced real hardship – and are now grateful to be together and safe. “Those kids went through a lot of things over there, and when they came here, they could see the difference,” she says. “They just know this is a good life.”
As foster parents, their job is to not only provide a safe and nurturing environment, but to also help them develop independent-living skills, obtain education and employment and give them a good start in a whole, new world.
Aware that her new family members had often been hungry, Sitare quickly instituted an open-door policy on the fridge. “You can eat whenever you want. Just don’t waste food,” says Sitare, who wisely stretches her grocery budget by shopping at Sam’s Club and taking advantage of membership points.
They are also working to help the children’s mother move here, although that could take another five years. “(Their mom) always thanks me, and says God is going to bless me,” Sitare says.
Now ranging in age from 21 to 7, her kids thank her too. Often, in the middle of a workday, Sitare will be surprised by a text that says: “We love you, Mom.”
Sitare doesn’t differentiate between “foster kids” and “biological kids.” To her, they’re all just her kids.
“I just try my best to give them love,” she says.
If you’d like to learn more about LSSND’s URM Foster Care Program, click HERE.