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De La Salle student organizes collection for Congo

Courtesy Felix Songolo

De La Salle North Catholic High School junior Felix Songolo, who was born in a Zambian refugee camp after his family fled violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a natural leader, says Sarah Maher, director of Lasallian youth ministry at De La Salle. Songolo was captain of the track and soccer teams — he also plays for the Olympic Development Program through the Portland Timbers — and is involved in student activities.

Described as humble, kind and a 'friend to everyone,' onetime refugee Felix Songolo will return to his roots this summer bringing basic items for his peers

Felix Songolo was supposed to be born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, yet because of ongoing violence in the central African nation, he was born in a Zambian refugee camp instead. This summer, the junior at De La Salle North Catholic High School will return to the country that’s a part of who he is but that he’s never seen. With him, he’ll not only carry the many stories his parents have told him about their native land but also items he hopes will make a small but meaningful difference in the lives of a few local Congolese students.

Songolo is collecting backpacks, shoes and clothing through a project he started as vice president of faith in the De La Salle student council. During a trip to visit his grandfather and his roots, he’ll distribute the collected items to youths at a Congolese parish. 

The Songolo family came to the States after seven years in Zambia. Catholic Charities helped with the process. 

“I’ve had so many blessings to come (to the United States),” said Songolo, who will travel to the Congo with his mother, Salome Nanyenga, in August. “I wanted to do something to help.”

The Congo’s recent history is one of civil war and corruption, and the majority of people live in extreme poverty.

Songolo said the Catholic faith always has been central in his family’s life — about 50 percent of Congo’s population is Catholic — but the move to the United States intensified its importance. “In some ways, it helped us find ourselves in a new country,” said the graduate of Holy Cross School in North Portland and parishioner of St. Philip Neri Parish in Southeast Portland. “Our faith is the driving factor in our lives and is why I do what I do.”

And what the 17-year-old does is quite a lot.

His mother said he recently visited a senior center and assists immigrant students with math and English homework.

Academic persistence and success run in the family. Songolo’s younger twin brothers, both Holy Cross students, earned top honors at a Valley Catholic Middle School speech tournament this year; his older brother is a student at Oregon State. 

Nanyenga has been visiting the Congo for several years on her own and has tried to bring a few items for the community each time. “We know what being without anything is like,” she said. “I wish I could bring more, but you don’t need to be rich in order to help.”

Songolo said that perspective and her efforts are part of what inspired him to start the collection.

Sarah Maher, director of Lasallian youth ministry at De La Salle, is helping Songolo with his project.

“He’s probably one of the kindest people in the universe,” Maher said, adding that he’s a natural leader. Songolo was captain of the track and soccer teams, is involved in student activities and has a high grade-point average. 

“He’s so polite and kind, a friend to everyone and humble,” said Maher. “He’s very grateful for his education.”

Songolo is collecting donations from De La Salle students and staff, as well as anyone willing to drop by items at the North Portland high school. Maher said De La Salle will assists his efforts in whatever way it can, including securing extra suitcases or shipping boxes for donations.

Songolo says he dreams of someday becoming a neurologist and entrepreneur. But life is not about your job, observed the thoughtful teen. “My faith has taught me that there is always hope,” he said, “and that life is not always about what I want to do but how I can affect other people’s lives positively.”


How to help

Backpacks, shoes and clothing for fifth- through 12th-grade students may be dropped off at De La Salle North Catholic High School, 7528 N. Fenwick Ave., Portland, through June 8. Donations, including monetary donations, may be contributed after that date by emailing Felix Songolo at felixsongolo@gmail.com



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