WASHINGTON (7News) — Reporter's Notebook: A few months ago a Facebook friend directed me to a stunning story about a local businessman raising money for an employee named Bobo. Bobo was trying to reunite with his wife and young daughter in the United States after he fled his home country of Cameroon following his arrest, torture and imprisonment for being a student activist. What happened next remains a remarkable reminder of human resiliency and the power we all possess to help one another.
Before most rise in our Nation’s Capital, with dreams still dancing in our heads, Bobo starts his day with Express Catering. Bobo’s job is loading and delivering food and drink to planes departing Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va.
Little did this 40-year-old know that his hustle and quick-to-smile personality would inspire a series of events so absurdly astonishing and over-the-top heartwarming, you’d think he was living in a Hollywood script.
“Honestly, this is like movie stuff. What he went through to get here and how’s he’s suffered and been alone,” said Frank Fumich, Bobo’s boss at Express Catering.
Express Catering owner Frank Fumich hired Bobo a few years back. As they grew closer, Bobo confided in Frank that he grew up in Cameroon in Central Africa.
“I try to go to the university to get a better life,” Bobo told 7News.
But, that better life quickly erupted in horror when Bobo, a student activist, was arrested, imprisoned and tortured for peacefully protesting conditions at his university in the early 2000s.
“They put me in the chain in my two foot and my hand and they beat me," Bobo said.
According to the U.S. State Department, the Cameroon government has been awash in corruption under decades of authoritarian rule, even warning Americans to stay away.
For more information on travel warnings per Cameroon, issued by the U.S. State Department, click here.
“Beat me. Jail me for some time. A lot of people help me, and I escape to another country to be safe,” added Bobo, whose last name we are not using to protect his privacy and his family.
Bobo said for years he was on the run, traveling to and from Cameroon to nearby Equatorial Guinea to evade further arrest. Then something unexpected happened.
He fell in love with Luthie. They married and had a daughter Keliane. When she was only five, Bobo made the gut-wrenching decision to seek asylum, and eventually a better life for all of them, in America.
“I get emotional. It’s really crazy. It really struck me. I have two daughters and I can’t imagine not seeing them for seven years. It’s hard to even comprehend," said Fumich.
That’s right. For seven years Bobo only communicated with his family via a cell phone for fear of reprisal from prying government officials.
“I cry because it’s very emotional. Seven years not in touch with your family. He just asked me. 'Hey, you need help? I say yes boss. If you can help me that would be great,'” said Bobo.
Fumich then made a decision that changed everything. He hired esteemed Immigration Attorney Ana Sami.
“My parents taught me from a very young age that there is no higher value than freedom, no higher value than freedom,” said Sami.
Sami said a massive backlog of cases allowed her law firm, Clark Hill, to sue the U.S. government over an unreasonable delay, and they won.
To learn more about Ana Sami’s work for Bobo click here.
“Everything was just a little miracle. There are little miracles all along the way,” said Sami.
In April, Bobo received his asylum verdict in the mail, insisting Frank read it.
“The first thing I see it says, ‘asylum approval’. Yes!,” yelled Fumich as he and Bobo hugged in celebration.
The first of many little miracles to come.
“And next, tomorrow we are going to start on your family to apply to get them here," Fumich added.
That normally takes years. Sami did it in only a month.
“When my wife gets the passport, she starts to cry because she cannot imagine it’s real. It’s real,” said Bobo.
Frank also asked his social media followers to donate what they could to help Bobo’s family upon their arrival in mid-November. So many donations poured in, Frank was able to fully furnish Bobo’s apartment.
“This is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done and if you can really change someone’s life, that’s pretty much the best thing you could ever do. And now we get to help reunite him with his family. It’s a fairytale really," Fumich added.
So, Frank and a handful of friends gathered at Dulles International Airport on Nov. 11 and were forced to wait three excruciating hours before Bobo’s wife and daughter emerged from customs.
A family, once ripped apart by violence, so improbably and blissfully together again. It makes you wonder how many little miracles are in this story because a week after Bobo’s family arrived, everyone celebrated by exchanging gifts at Frank’s house.
Luthie brought traditional items from Cameroon. Frank carried only a plain box. Inside that box, was a check for $50,000.
“And we raised $50,000 for your family. You’re going to be getting $50,000 to start your lives here in America,” announced Fumich.
Frank had kept quiet about a GoFundMe page he created for Bobo, thereby washing away the worries of a man who lost count of all the tears he’d tasted.
“It’s incredible. It’s my first time in my life that a lot of people show me love," Bobo told everyone at the party.
Keliane also brought something --- a hand-written thank you letter for Frank that she read aloud to everyone.
“Thank you inside my heart for what you have done for me and my family. Because you have done what nobody has done for me. You have made my dream a reality to go and meet my father in America,” read Keliane.
All Bobo ever wanted was his freedom and his family---a reality buried deep inside his dreams, only to be unlocked by a community as fierce as they are caring.
“This is really what this country is about. This is really what this country stands for. This is what this country believes in. This is why people seek refuge here in this country,” concluded Sami.
“Thank you for changing my life because for the moment my life is incredible. So, thank you. Thank you for everything,” said Bobo.
For more information on Frank's efforts to raise money for Bobo click here.