Under clear blue skies and a gentle sun, a small group of city residents celebrated their home country’s 54th anniversary as an independent republic, with a brief ceremony outside City Hall.
Mary Georges addressed the group as the Congolese flag was raised in tandem with the New Hampshire state flag, symbolic of the blending of two very diverse people and cultures in the spirit of unity.
“We thank God today because it’s June 30, independence day for Congo. It is our fifth anniversary of raising the flag in Manchester, New Hampshire,” said Georges.
Although it is a traditional day of celebration, Georges said it’s also a day to be reminded that their fellow countrymen still living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are not so fortunate.
It is only independence day on paper.
“There is not independence there today because people are suffering, children are suffering; there is a war. Living in New Hampshire we know this city, our state, they have been with us to give us support, which is why we gather here for a day of oneness to show we are American Congolese,” Georges said.
“Today we come here to ask how do we plant seeds for those future generations, those children, to have a better education for them. One day we pray our children can go and help ease the suffering of those in the Congo,” she said.
As the Congolese flag was raised next to City Hall, the group sang their country’s national anthem, “Debout Congolaise,” which translates from French to “Arise Congolese” [see lyrics below]. The anthem was adopted in 1960 when Congo officially gained independence from Belgium.
Georges said when she arrived in New Hampshire 20 years ago there were just two Congolese families, totaling seven people from her home land, living in the city. Now there are more than 100 Congolese living in Manchester.
One thing they still seek help with today is a way for their children to succeed, as they assimilate into the American culture.
“Today there is a lot of trouble in our schools for our people. We need help in learning how to live together. Our children come here not knowing anything about [illegal] drugs, and now we are seeing them get lost to drugs. We need more help. We came here as educated people, and we wanted our children to have better opportunities for education. Our hope is to find ways to see that all people of color can come together in our community and get the help they need,” Georges said.
Manchester Central High School teaches students from 60 different countries who speak 70 different languages, according to a 2011 Granite State Organizing Project survey.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Manchester has a current population that includes 12.2 percent foreign born residents, compared to the statewide average of 5.3 percent. In 2009, 54 percent of New Hampshire’s refugee population settled in Manchester.
Mayor Ted Gatsas and Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long joined the ceremony at City Hall.
“We’re here on a pretty regular basis to acknowledge the different countries that are here and to raise flags for them, whether it’s an independence day or a national day, we’re always here supporting the different communities that are here in the city of Manchester,” Gatsas said.
Said Georges, after the ceremony, “We always are ready to raise awareness that we love our country, but that we are looking for support for our country – who can help? We would like our children to be able to go back one day, but our children can’t even go back for vacation right now, because there is no peace there. By remembering this day every year, and raising awareness, we believe one day, our children will know where they came from,” Georges said.
The celebration continued with a luncheon at the city health department on Elm Street.
“Debout Congolais” [Arise Congolese]
United by fate,
United in the struggle for independence,
Let us hold up our heads, so long bowed,
And now, for good, let us keep moving boldly ahead, in peace.
Oh, ardent people, by hard work we shall build,
In peace, a country more beautiful than before.
Countrymen, sing the sacred hymn of your solidarity,
Proudly salute the golden emblem of your sovereignty, Congo.
Blessed gift (Congo) of our forefathers (Congo),
Oh beloved (Congo) country,
We shall people your soil and ensure your greatness.
(30 June) Oh gentle sun (30 June) of 30 June,
(Holy day) Be witness (holy day) of the immortal oath of freedom
That we pass on to our children forever.