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Smiles a world away from home: Congolese refugees visit the Philadelphia Flower Show (Photos)

It’s a long way from Africa.

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On Friday, March 6 a small group of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo traveled from Point Breeze to Center City for the 186th annual Philadelphia Flower Show. It was the group’s first flower show, and for many it came in the midst of their first real winter — many of them were still adapting to the bitterly cold temperatures, the snow, and the rhythms of life in Philadelphia.

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They represented a handful of refugees a nation that, according to the Human Development Index, has a low level of human development, ranked 186 out of 187 countries in 2013.

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Their native country had been caught in the midst of a bloody civil war involving nine African nations, multiple groups of UN peacekeepers and twenty armed groups. The conflict has devastated the country, resulting in the deaths of 5.4 million people since 1998.

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More than 90 percent of those deaths came as a result of malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition, all aggravated by displacement and unsanitary and over-crowded living conditions. Not to mention the violence that comes with war. Nearly half of the victims were children under five.

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But like the excitement that comes with the changing of the seasons paired with new beginnings, these Congolese refugees couldn’t have been more excited to see the flowers and theatrics that engulfed the convention center for nearly two weeks.

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Most of the refugees have known each other prior to their arrival in the states. Many lived  in the same refugee camps. The ones who didn’t know each other quickly became a part of a new Congolese family here in Philly. The hugs at the hectic and sometimes confusing office of the Nationality Services Center (NSC) in the early morning make that apparent.

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The NSC has been helping the nearly 120 refugees who’ve arrived in the past few years get acclimated to their new life here in the City of Brotherly Love. According to their website, the NSC is a non-profit organization that provides social, educational and legal services to immigrants and refugees in the Greater Philadelphia area. The organization has been doing what they can to help the refugees escape their troubled past in the conflict-ridden central African nation.

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The trip to the Flower Show was another effort to get the refugees comfortable with the fabric of the city, and you know, look at pretty flowers. The refugees spent the two hours of their visit taking dozens of photos with their camera phones, both of the flowers and of themselves attending the show.

All photos by Joshua Scott Albert

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