Fleeing political unrest in Central Africa three years ago, Amina Makamba took a 22-hour flight to Dallas followed by a three-hour bus ride to Austin before an ambulance rushed her to a hospital with debilitating stomach pain.
The biggest shocker on Makamba’s first full day in the U.S. was not the emergency C-section she underwent nine weeks before she was due to give birth. Far more surprising: Makamba, believing she was pregnant with one child, ended up having a second, and then a third.
Triplets? Makamba considered the possibility that hospital staffers were playing a joke on her.
"I was so, so scared," Makamba, 34, said recently. "I was like, ’Oh my God, how am I gonna do this?’"
The last to come of the three girls, Lukala, weighed 1 pound and had to stay in the intensive care unit at Ascension Seton Medical Center for five months with numerous health scares that still require medical attention as she approaches her third birthday this month. The other two girls, Nchuti and Masango, weren’t much bigger — only 3 pounds apiece.
Alone because her husband had stayed back in Congo, Makamba’s hope for a peaceful life in the U.S. had hit immediate turbulence. She lacked resources to care for the little ones, and her English skills were so limited she had trouble communicating for help.
Local charities set her up with services, ensuring that she and the babies would have a roof over their heads, and that the babies would get adequate medical care. A pro bono attorney assisted in her asylum application, which is pending. Makamba did her part as well, finding work as a nanny and later in the accounting department at Austin Community College, where she also took courses for two semesters. Her English fluency improved. She recently obtained a bachelor’s degree for the equivalent coursework she completed in Africa. Her career ambitions now include earning a Master of Business Administration.
Makamba, in a recent conversation at her apartment complex in Northwest Austin, demurred when applauded for the strength she has exhibited.
"I don’t think it’s about being strong," she says. "Sometimes in life, you just find yourself in situations that you have to do what you have to do."
There were some things more challenging than others. When the kids were babies, Makamba had to leave one of them at the bottom of the stairs to her apartment while she hurried the other two to the top. Then, of course, she had to leave two at the top of the steps while she retrieved the other from the bottom. Thankfully, Nchuti, Masango and Lukala now can walk unassisted.
The girls have never met their father or their older brothers, ages 9 and 5, who stayed in Africa when Makamba began her excursion to Texas after the family faced political threats. Money is a barrier to bringing them together.
Of the items Makamba requested from Season for Caring, airfare for her family to visit Austin is near the top.
"My kids are really important to me," says Makamba, breaking into tears. "Having to leave them was difficult."
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