OGDEN — Ashraf Kambere’s worries didn’t go away when he arrived at the refugee camp.
At the forefront of the 13-year-old’s mind: How would he provide for his younger brother and sisters?
He and his three siblings had escaped captivity in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, where both of their parents and their youngest sister were killed. As the oldest child, Kambere was now in charge.
With the occasional help of strangers, and foraging for food along the way, Kambere had brought his family to the Kyaka refugee camp in Uganda.
They would receive help here, but he was still worried. And that’s when something Kambere can only describe as a miracle happened. In a camp with more than 20,000 people, he spotted his aunt from a distance. He hadn’t seen her in years.
“I called her. I said, ‘Anifah! Anifah!’ And then she turned around. When she turned around, she knew me and she came to me,” Kambere recalled. “The first question was, ‘Where are your parents?’”
“I did not want to break her heart,” he continued. “I told her, ‘Don’t worry about that. I will talk about that later.’”
Anifah Borabi and her daughter opened their tent to Kambere and his siblings, and they’ve been together ever since. Now, the family’s story will unfold Sunday night in a new episode of HGTV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
A new life through ‘Extreme Makeover’
Eight years after reuniting at the refugee camp, the family of six lives in a brand-new 2,900-square-foot home in Ogden, Utah. They’ve lived there since Aug. 17, 2019. It’s got six bedrooms and two bathrooms, so each family member has his or her own room.
It’s all thanks to the revived TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” Ogden general contractor Wadman Corporation and the many people in the Ogden community who volunteered to help build the two-story home in just five days.
The Barobi family, who with help from Catholic Community Services eventually resettled to Utah in September 2015, applied for the HGTV show last May. The family’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” episode airs Sunday night.
Prior to receiving their new home, the six family members lived in the small basement of a duplex — three bedrooms, one bath. But in many ways, that apartment was just as special as the family’s considerably larger new home.
“I had never lived in a house where there’s been electricity, to be honest,” Kambere, 21, told the Deseret News. “And where there’s a kitchen inside the house, where there’s a bathroom inside the house, where there’s water inside the house. … Even though it was small, it was home.”
While living in the duplex, Kambere’s aunt got a job at a cookie factory. Kambere learned how to drive. Via public transit, Kambere commuted nearly five hours each day to attend Utah International Charter School in South Salt Lake. The aspiring aerospace engineer graduated in 2018 — one of a handful of students recognized for earning a GPA of 3.5 and above — and then went on to study at Ogden-Weber Technical College.
It was Kambere’s high school principal who first told him about “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” — a show Kambere said has completely changed his family’s life. Their high-efficiency home is solar powered, and the only utility expense the family has is water, according to the Deseret News. That leads to a cost of about $200 a month, including taxes and insurance.
“It took off the pressure of paying rent every month,” Kambere said. “I was so stressed about that because my aunt, she would work like one day, two days, sometimes she doesn’t work, so I would be the one working every day and paying all the bills, paying rent.”
Kambere and his family saw their home for the first time on Aug. 15, 2019, moving in just two days later. Overcome with joy, the family fell to its knees when the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” bus moved to reveal the new home.
“I don’t know how to express it, but it was something that I’ve never seen. Because I was not expecting to live in that kind of a home,” Kambere said. “It was beautiful.”
More than a home
The show’s designers researched the family and got to know each member to help inspire their designing decisions. Kambere said the style of the house, especially the exterior, reminded him of his home in Africa.
But the two-story home was just the start of a showering of gifts from the Ogden community. The family also received a car, gift cards and scholarships from Weber State University.
”As an open-enrollment university that makes education accessible to students, it was an easy decision to give the Barobi family scholarship support in order to encourage them to take another step to fulfill the American Dream with a university education,” Weber State University president Brad Mortensen said in a statement to the Deseret News.
Kambere, who currently works at Fresenius Medical Care in Ogden, plans to study electrical engineering at Weber State. His sister Azida wants to become a lawyer. Kambere only has gratitude to the Ogden community for helping his family’s dreams come true.
“I want to say thank you to the community that accepted me, received me and changed my life,” he said. “I remember the first time I moved to Ogden, I found a lot of people, all of them, they stopped what they’re doing and come to help us move. … I’m so grateful that I am still in this country.”
Reflecting on the outpouring of love his family has received, and the whirlwind of events that have happened over the past several months, Kambere is reminded of a lesson his father taught him at a young age.
“He told me, no matter the situation … respect all the people you find in the community,” Kambere said. “No matter young, no matter old — age doesn’t matter. Just respect everyone. And if you do that, you’ll be able to take care of your siblings.”
“And I saw what he told me, it came to pass.”