In September of 2010, our family moved to Charlotte, NC to volunteer with an inner city youth ministry called One7. It was founded in 2008 and now has kids from Africa, Vietnam, Burma, Mexico, El Salvador and the United States. The One7 vision: To reach and transform inner city communities and families by intentionally forming cross cultural youth ministry teams while focusing on holistic change and spiritual growth. We are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and we have never regretted the decision to move. One thing we have come to understand is that everyone has a story. All it takes is some time and active participation in someone’s life to develop a personal relationship. Just because a person is smiling on the outside, does not mean they are not ripped apart inside.
I want you to meet Hassan. He is from the Congo. Over the last two years, I have become particularly close with Hassan. He is a bright individual with dreams of returning to Africa one day to film a documentary about the kind of life he and his family were fortunate enough to escape. I’ll let him tell you about his life in his own words. This is from a paper he wrote for a school project last year. I’m currently working on a novel about One7, and I included this in one of the chapters. It brought me to tears the first time I sat down with Hassan, and he shared his story.
In his own words…
Life is something that no one should trust because it never stays the same. It’s always changing. What kind of life am I talking about? A life of pain. The life of a refugee. My family and I were refugees for seven years. We fled the Democratic Republic of Congo to Rwanda. We lived in a refugee camp with eighteen thousand people.
We thought we would be safe there, but it wasn’t at all what we had imagined it would be like. The people in the refugee camp live there with such pain and sorrow day and night. They fall ill with no hope of a cure. It’s just like jail. We were not permitted to go out of the camp to look for work or anything to eat. We were prisoners.
It was a life where you might never see your family again. We lived in a constant state of fear which made it hard to sleep at night. There were people dying every day from different diseases. No one thought they would survive to see the next day from the lack of food and protection. There was a large amount of death. We didn’t even have money to buy the material necessary to build ourselves a suitable home. We had nothing. Nothing at all.
Even though we were all from the same country, our ethnic backgrounds made us so different. Instead of working and surviving together as one, we would fight and abuse each other. Most everyone wanted to leave, but we had nothing to return to. Our homes had been destroyed in the war. They even killed what animals we might have had like cows and goats. There was nothing left of what used to be our home.
It was like we were trying to start a new life but had nothing we needed to make that happen. We were stuck in a life that we never asked for. The same people who killed our families wanted to kill us, but we escaped. I don’t understand how someone from the same nation I’m from could try and kill me. Why would they want to do that? We needed to work together to survive. They just couldn’t see that.
In the refugee camp where we lived, there was an agency that helped us with food and many other things. They took care of my family the entire time we were there. They provided us with things we needed in order to survive like blankets, pans, dishes, spoons, and some food. They even built a small lodge for all of us to live in. They also gave us sosoma porridge that we ate to avoid certain diseases.
it really helped all of us in the camp, but the sad thing is that we couldn’t get enough of it. Most of the kids and adults were getting sick every day. There were so many kinds of sickness but the most common ones were HIV/AIDS, pulmonary infections, eye infections, skin diseases, and of course malaria.
It’s so hard to explain exactly what that kind of life is like unless you live through it. Sometimes I just don’t even know what to say except that it was so painful. Even school was hard. We had to walk there early in the morning and stay almost all day. We were never fed while in school. We had water, but that was it. Most all the kids were already starving and it was very hard to learn.
I know how it feels to be a refugee in another country. I have experienced refugee life and it is so hard, but I survived. My whole family survived. We thank God everyday for that. Now we are in the US, and this is my third country. There are so many opportunities and freedoms in this country. It is so different from Africa, especially in the schools. There we were only allowed to wear certain things and we couldn’t speak in class. It’s so different here.
I would like to close with a prayer. God, thank You for taking my family out of the refugee camp we lived in for seven years. Thank you that we learned to read and write even though there are so many who don’t know how to. God, I know you’re always with us and you can see all the other families still in the camps. Please don’t let them feel hopeless. They need help and someone to show that they care about them. Please save them like you saved us. Amen.
Next week: Has Technology Made Us Stupid? (Or is it just me?)
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Have a blessed day,