Still With Us: Msenwa’s Untold Story of War, Resilience and Hope

Arise and shine – Together we can make an impact in the lives of people in Nyarugusu Camp and DR Congo.

As I look back and reflect on my life in Nyarugusu Camp and the increasing influx of Burundian refugees, I ask myself: Is there hope for Nyarugusu refugees?

I am reaching out to you and your friends to partner with me to give a voice and hope to the people in Nyarugusu Camp, Tanzania. My book, Still With Us: Msenwa’s Untold Story of War, Resilience and Hope chronicles my personal experiences during the war and in Nyarugusu. Above all, it gives an opportunity to inspire hope and possibilities for the people in Nyarugusu Camp and Congo. Below is the book summary:

Still With Us is a heartbreaking and at-times horrific account of one boy’s flight from terror during the 1996 war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Forced to become a father to his two younger siblings and mainstay for other lost children, Msenwa Oliver Mweneake gives his eyewitness account of the carnage of war, including indiscriminate mass murder and rape. He survived the dehumanizing effects of living with tens of thousands in UNHCR refugee camps, battled desperately against governmental and NGO bureaucracy and almost lost hope.

Despite the atrocious injustices of war, Msenwa never lost his faith, believing his life was preserved for a higher purpose. His story awakens hope after despair and inspires good after evil. The revealing of this untold story dispels apathy and stimulates engagement in positive change for the countless who still suffer in his homeland and refugee camps. Proceeds from this book are dedicated to empower Congolese with education and other supports through The Msenwa Foundation.

To purchase your copy go to: http://www.amazon.ca; http://www.amazon.com; http://www.indigo.ca, barnesandnoble.com.

For signed copies or speaking engagements? Please contact me at stillwithusmemoir@gmail.com.

 

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Is there Hope for Nyarugusu Camp refugees?

Tents of newly arrived Burundian refugees in Nyarugusu Camp

Tents of newly arrived Burundian refugees in Nyarugusu Camp, photo from http://www.aljazeera.com

 

I saw fear and uncertainty reflected on many Burundians’ faces during my two-week volunteer teaching trip at Hope Africa University in Burundi. The President had announced that he would run for a third term in the 2015 elections, which sparked violent protests and civil unrest. This tiny African country had just emerged from a civil war in 2005 (with the Arusha Accord); memories of violence were still fresh in citizens’ minds.

Despite little to no media coverage from the West on this crisis, by May 2015 thousands of Burundians began to flee their country to Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania, the same camp where my entire family still lives, and where I called home for five years (1997-2001). I cried in frustration and helplessness when my sisters told me the schools had to close to accommodate the influx of Burundian refugees. They were happy to use their schools as a safe haven for the Burundians, but this put their school year in jeopardy as there was no space to hold classes.

Oliver of me, my mother and 4 of my seven sisters

Picture of me, my mother and 4 of my 7 sisters

The pictures of desperate Burundian refugees reminded me of my life in a Nyarugusu tent: a door-shaped rectangle carved out of one of the short walls and served as the tent entrance. Muddy paths led between the rows of tents and served as roads. The tents were squeezed so closely together that a person could barely pass between them. Fathers, grandmothers and teenagers alike slept and sat outside their mud-stained tents on makeshift benches. My first day in Nyarugusu in 1997 brought renewed emotions and anger about the kind of life war had forced me into. Like everyone in Nyarugusu, I felt depressed when I started thinking about my broken dreams and bleak future. Thankfully, through the support of many I have overcome seemingly impossible barriers.

People lining up for mosquito nets in Nyarugusu Camp.

People lining up for mosquito nets in Nyarugusu Camp.

The population of Nyarugusu Camp has now doubled and more people flow into Nyarugusu daily. Established in November 1996, Nyarugusu remains the world oldest refugee camp. It has been home to over 65,000 Congolese for 19 years. The UNHCR has made drastic cuts to all basic needs in recent years; with the addition of over 60,000 Burundian refugees, the poor medical, nutritional, educational and sanitation structures of the camp are collapsing. The number of people dying of cholera and other preventable diseases continue to rise. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and other humanitarian organizations have confirmed these reports. Two weeks ago, my five year old nephew almost succumbed to cholera and malaria in the camp. Although he survived (though he has ongoing stomach pain), over 25 children lost their lives to cholera within weeks.

In the refugee camp, each person receives a ration card for food and other minimal items. People must survive on the minimal food provided by the UNCHR – four kilograms of corn flour, two kilograms of beans or peas, a half litre of cooking oil, two cups of soya bean flour and some salt. People have to portion this food wisely to stretch these rations for two weeks.

Is there hope for us refugees? The more I personally experienced the UN’s leadership structure and policies as a refugee, the more I realized that hope for refugees would never be achieved through this dictatorial structure that steals everything from refugees in the name of help.

I hope that the world will unite to rally for the people in Nyarugusu Camp as they have done for the Zimbabwean lion that was recently shot by Dr. Palmer. I am in the process of registering The Msenwa Foundation as a Canadian charity to provide financial and professional support to widows, children and youth in Nyarugusu and DR Congo. I will also publish my memoir this fall with proceeds going to sponsor Nyarugusu high school graduates to study in universities. We are raising funds to sponsor two more students by January 2016. Please partner with us to achieve this goal. Feel free to contact us on ways you can help.

 

 

Paul Dewar, MP: Bill C-486 on Conflict Minerals Act

Readers of this blog will know that more than 5 million people have died as a result of conflict between armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet it is hard to really understand what that means. It is the population of Greater Toronto – all dead in just fifteen years. The conflict has also resulted in the highest incidence of rape in the world, with many armed groups employing rape as a weapon of war against women and girls. And it has caused a displacement crisis, with countless people fleeing their homes and becoming refugees.

What’s happening in the Congo is wrong. We can’t always right a wrong. But this time, we absolutely can.

The conflict is fueled and funded in large part by minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. These are minerals that we use every day – in cellphones, tin cans, light bulbs, and jewelry.

More than half of all mines (and all but one major mine) in the eastern Congo are controlled by armed groups. These minerals literally keep some armed groups in business.

That is why I am proposing the Conflict Minerals Act. This act would require Canadian companies to exercise due diligence before and while exploiting and trading minerals from the Congo and the surrounding region, to ensure that no armed groups engaged in illegal activities have benefited from the extraction, processing, or use of those minerals.

Virtually all of the main tech companies – from Blackberry to Microsoft, and from Apple to Nokia – are already starting to take steps to avoid using conflict minerals in their products. In May 2011, the OECD adopted guidelines and a supporting recommendation regarding corporate due diligence. In August 2012, the American Securities Exchange Commission announced new rules requiring companies to demonstrate due diligence in their use of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.

I believe that Canadians don’t want to have conflict minerals in their homes. They want to be able to choose products that don’t fund war. Canadians deserve to make that choice. But in order to choose, Canadians must know the truth about what they’re buying. Companies need to tell Canadians if the minerals in their products fund war. Canadians have the right to know if a cellphone or necklace is fueling conflict. And then they have the right to choose for themselves.

We can all play a role in ending conflict. One way is to take conflict out of the things we buy. Together, we have the power to make a better world. You can start now by signing the online petition supporting Bill C-486, liking our campaign on Facebook, and following us on Twitter.

Minerals may be everywhere, but conflict doesn’t have to be. Together, we can take conflict out of Canadian homes – and, in doing so, out of the Congo.

Paul Dewar is the Canadian Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre and the Foreign Affairs Critic for the NDP Official Opposition. He recently introduced Bill C-486, the Conflict Minerals Act, which would require Canadian companies to exercise public due diligence in sourcing minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

Conflict Minerals

Growing up in South Kivu province of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, I recall hearing my dad and other family members talking about minerals. When the river flooded in the rainy season, it was common for people to fimicah_video_coltannd gold and other valuable minerals on the roads and riverbanks. As a young child, I had no clue of the various resources that we tread upon in our daily farming and other activities and could not imagine that these resources would one day cause me and many other children to become war children, then refugees. Who would have thought that people around the world would soon lust after them in pursuit of the latest technology?

 

Every time I refleccoltanminegunpointt on the war in my country and the desperate situation of my beloved family and friends in Nyarugusu, I have come to realize how our resources have brought so much pain, struggle, humiliation and loss to me and my people. I just long for that day when the world will realize that their need for more coltan and other resources has led to killings, rape, and abuse of any kind against me and many Congolese.

 

I am encouraged that Canada seems to advocate for a policy change (the Conflict Minerals Act) that may result in saving many lives in my country. We are honoured to have Mr. Paul Dewar, MP and Foreign Affairs Critic for the Opposition, as our guest blogger next week. Mr. Dewar has introduced the Conflict Minerals Act in parliament and launched an online petition to gather Canadian support for this bill. Many more signatures are needed to convince the government of its relevance and importance to support changes in Congo.

Please feel free to read this brief article on conflict minerals in preparation for our next post.

Return to Congo? A connection to Canada.

During the days in Nyarugusu, one question burned in my mind: why can’t people return to Congo? The living conditions and lack of hope found in the refugee camp would surely cause people to seek other options.

On Saturday, as we ate a meal lovingly cooked by my new sisters, I asked my father-in-law: “so, can people return to the Congo now? It’s been so long in the refugee camp.” “In theory, yes. They can leave,” he answered, “but many return to Nyarugusu because they find their land has been taken over by others. If you return and try to claim your land, people will kill you.”

Further discussions with community members revealed other hurdles to returning: people have no savings to support their resettlement in Congo; no guarantee of a job, therefore no means to support basic needs (food, housing, education); and many young families were born in the refugee camp and have never even lived in Congo. They identify more as Tanzanians than Congolese, but are denied Tanzanian citizenship due to their refugee status.

On the surface, the main barriers to returning appear financial. But digging deeper, I have discovered some interesting connections to Canada and Nyarugusu.

Connection to Canada: Coltan, a rare heavy metal, is heavily mined in DR Congo. It makes almost all electronic devices work by holding a Child Miner Coltan strong electrical charge. It is found in cell phones, laptops, camera lenses, hearing aids, video cameras, Xboxes, Playstations, Nintendos, In fact, 60-80% of the world’s coltan is found in Congo, and men, women and children are forced at gunpoint to mine coltan that is then shipped out of the country at huge profits. The Canadian government states that there are major Canadian investments in the Congo, particularly in the mining sector. So, our demand for new technology is deeply affecting the conflict in Eastern Congo.

 Connection to Nyarugusu: Coltan is mined in Eastern Congo, where almost all Nyarugusu refugees come from. Although the situation in DR Congo is very complex, the mining of coltan and the international demand for it plays a role in the violence in the Congo, and is another barrier for many Nyarugusu refugees to return home.

Being a solution-focused Westerner, I ask myself: so, what is the answer? One short video presents one approach. Also, as we speak, the Canadian parliament is also addressing this issue through the Conflict Minerals Act, which would ensure that Canadian companies do not support human rights abuses and illegal armed groups through their mining of coltan (and other minerals). Paul Dewar, Foreign Affairs Critic for the Opposition, has tabled this act and it needs much more support before September 17 to pass. He has launched a petition and calls to your local MP will also put this issue on the radar. These actions are important, since we are clearly connected to the Congo.

Thinking further, I also ask myself: what approach will allow Congolese to define their own solutions, instead of believing that external countries know what’s best for Congo?

I am amazed at how much the Congo is connected to my life: first, through my wonderful husband, and second, through my consumer habits. Every time I look at my cell phone (or husband!), I am reminded of the relationship I now hold with this African country and the complexity of its current situation.

Recognizing this complexity in DR Congo, I keep asking myself: so, what is the answer?

Please comment.

Nyarugusu: A Temporary Home?

My friend, Philip Patroba, accompanied us to Nyarugusu refugee camp. Although a Tanzanian himself, this was his first time in Kigoma province, and the first time visiting a refugee camp.

I interviewed Philip after three days in Nyarugusu. His reflections focus on different aspects of the visit: first impressions, strengths of the people, major needs, highlights of the leadership seminar, and future opportunities. Please reflect along with our friend Philip.   Please click on the hyperlink above to see the video on youtube. If you have difficulty getting it to work please try the link below.

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My life: from childhood to war- Building Resilience

Growing up in Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo, I had the privilege to learn the history of my country and my district. I learnt that Fizi is one of the nine territories of the South-Kivu province in the Eastern part of the DR Congo. The district of Fizi borders with Tanzania and Burundi on the east, across Lake Tanganyika. Fizi is a vast and poor rural area of about 22,000 km2 with over one million inhabitants. The district headquarters (capital city) is also named Fizi, which previously had over 30,000 inhabitants. However, due to incessant wars, the district of Fizi has remained uninhabited for a long time. Throughout history, Fizi has been a battlefield, living the population in absolute misery and poverty. The former President Kabila led an unsuccessful rebellion against the regime of late president Mobutu Sese Seko from 1963-1979. With the support of Rwanda and many other countries, President Kabila led a second rebellion (the so-called liberation war) from 1996-2002 and succeeded in overturning Mobutu’s dictatorship regime (see map from the previous blog).

As a child, my parents, grand-parents, and mentors would share stories with me of what life was like for them between 1963-1979. Even still, I never imagined another war could happen because the area was peaceful and we could move around freely without fear of gunshots or war.

Growing up in Fizi, life was fun as we climbed mango, orange, avocado, and papaya trees-name them all, we enjoyed them. As a child I enjoyed running around the bush and climbing mountains to play with monkeys, and never hesitated to run whenever I smelled gorilla, chimpanzee, elephants, or lions passing by. I learnt as a child to be watchful when walking in the bush as the area was full of deadly snakes. All these experiences became part of everyday life until the day came when shedding innocent blood became the order of the day. This day I will never forget in my life.

mango-tree

Mango tree

MDG : DRC : Chimpanzees in Tongo forest, Virunga National Park, DR Congo

Chimpanzees in my home land

October 25, 1996. Although rumours of war spread all over the country, nobody in the Fizi territory believed that they would have to flee for their lives and seek refuge in neighbouring countries. Everyone believed in the army’s ability to secure the land and protect us from any attacks. On the morning of October 25, 1996, I woke up and went to class as usual. Around 11am we heard shootings but the school authorities did not think that it was anything serious until it was too late. Parents came to pick up their children from school as the situation in the area had become fatally violent. Over 5 people were reported killed in the shootings that lasted two hours in the nearby mountains.

Hundreds of thousands of people had to flee for their lives when the war broke out in 1996

Hundreds of thousands of people had to flee for their lives when the war broke out in 1996

Unfortunately, my sisters and I had nobody to pick us up, since my parents lived 60 kms away from our school. We decided to start the long journey home. To our surprise, the streets were full with hundreds of people, carrying luggage and their children, walking or running to unknown destinations to save their lives. All of a sudden, hundreds of military cars appeared on the road, escaping the frontline battle and fleeing with their families. My two young sisters and I were confused, shocked, traumatized to see the unbelievable wickedness of human nature. Shootings, shootings after shootings, dead bodies everywhere on the streets. Walking through the dead bodies was the only option. I thought that at our age, my sisters and I and many other children were innocent – this was no longer true.

Hundreds of children were separated from their parents. I was encouraged to meet other lost children in the bush, and we shared the little we had with each other. We enjoyed chatting and warming each other up as we had nothing to cover up ourselves with. We shared the journey home with two other kids who also lost their parents when someone started shooting at a crowd that was running for their lives. One of the children had witnessed his father being shot in front of him. Needless to say, as the eldest of all, close to 14 years at that time, I became the counsellor and the leader.  No one would walk on the main streets as it was so dangerous. We also slept in the bush, at that time not worrying about the deadly snakes and insects, among other dangerous animals. The only thing we worried about was the shooting. I never thought shooting and stepping over dead bodies would become a normal experience at an early age in my life. I guess my beliefs about unfairness and injustice only reflected the brokenness of mankind, greed, and the pursuit for self-fulfilment, etc. War-war-war – I hate you.

Lost children during war-

Lost children during war-

The next morning, we walked the final 20 kilometers in the bush to arrive at our parents’ house. It was no surprise that the village was so quiet: everyone had run for their lives except a few armed people. I happened to have a house key, so I went in the house and realized my parents had left everything behind. I wondered how they were going to survive. My younger sisters had so many questions for me that I could not answer: Do you think our parents and two other sisters were killed? Do you think we will ever see them again? Do you think God will protect them? Do you think it is fair that they left? Do you think they love us enough? I had no answers to their questions. Growing up in Christian homes, we all had big questions about God’s work or presence in the midst of war. We sang some of our favourite songs and prayed briefly. It was time to decide where to go. The other two children we travelled with through the bush decided to continue their journey with one of their neighbours.

I decided to go back to school with my two young sisters. At this time, I did not know if that was the right or wrong decision. Our journey back to school was chaotic as shootings continued. We also spent two days on the road. I started begging for food and anything for survival. We finally arrived at the school, and no one was there anymore (story to be continued in the next blog).

As I reflect on October 25, 1996 – walking through dead bodies, meeting some other lost kids in the bush, surviving the deadly snakes and ferocious animals – it makes me realize how terrible war is.  Although the walk to meet our parents – which proved in vain as no one was home – was a torture, I am learning more that situations in our lives do not just happen for nothing. Through those difficult moments I was blessed by people on the streets who had very little but willingly shared with us strangers. I never thought to become a beggar in my life, but I now realize that the structures we put in place around the world force many to become beggars every day. I am learning that ordinary people, like those people I begged from for food, can make a huge impact in someone’s life. Although these people may not even recall what they did for us – some of them were even shot to death in the war – I live now as a result of their simple act of compassion. I completely feel that the prayers and support of many gave me hope and courage to face every day with confidence. Today I don’t regret my past. I now rejoice in knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life as many did and continue to do in mine.  I see more than ever before now that we can make a difference and change someone’s story today.

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My chemistry high school teacher in Nyarugusu refugee camp

My life: from childhood to war

Map of Congo showing Fizi- my home district

Map of Congo showing Fizi- my home district.

Born in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I grew up in the small village of Lusenda in Fizi, South Kivu province, on the shores of beautiful Lake Tanganyika. Fishing and farming were the main economical activities, both of which I actively participated in. After school, many of us would run to the lake for fishing, and catching a fish was not only fun but also a sign that dinner or lunch will be delicious. The game of catching and throwing was not an option.

Lake Tanganyika- home to my favourite fish (Mikebuka-I miss you)

Lake Tanganyika- home to my favourite fish (Mikebuka-I miss you).

My village had no library; however many of us young men and women had the privilege to learn from firsthand experiences. In our oral culture, our grandpas and grandmas and anyone older were considered a library that we could easily consult in times of need.

Born from a primary school headmaster and a housewife, I had the privilege to attend one of the best schools in the area and at the same time learn farming. My dad was not only a headmaster but a farmer and businessman who worked hard to make sure the family had enough. Needless to say, our house was always full with extended family members and church visitors. At an early age, I learnt that life was full of both happy and stressful moments.

Everything in my village revolved around relationship. People knew each other quite well and we were all connected: if the person is not your brother, then he is your uncle; if not your younger father, then your grandfather; if not a cousin, then an aunt, or young mother, etc. At that time, I do not think I fully understood what it meant to go hungry until the war broke out in 1996, as it was cultural and acceptable to eat at anyone’s house in our village. Everyone was encouraged to be courageous and help others navigate stressful situations….to strive despite the hardship of everyday living.

Rich fertile soil of my ancestors- home to sweet mangoes, pineapples, avocados, oranges--name them all- we have them

Rich fertile soil of my ancestors- home to sweet mangoes, pineapples, avocados, oranges–name them all- we have them.

Life was just like that – from school to fishing, choir practice to football (soccer) games, and so on – until October 1996. Before October, we heard rumours about the war, about forces from Rwanda invading our country, however everybody believed in our military and the president at that time (Mobutu Seseseko) to protect us. We were all proven wrong. As the rumours of war continued, my parents decided to send me and my two younger sisters (6 and 8 yrs. old) 60 km. away where we could continue our schooling without worrying for our lives.

October 25, 1996. This day I will never forget: shooting, blood shedding, and all evils one can think of became the norm of everyday life. This was the day my two younger sisters and I were separated from my parents, not knowing if we would ever see them and my three other sisters again.

It was a tough time – we were only three of us and our God as we passed through dead bodies and heard shootings of all kinds (to be continued in another blog). 

As I reflect on that day and our walk to meet our parents – which proved in vain as no one was home – I now feel that situations in our lives do not just happen for nothing. Through those difficult moments I learnt to depend on God more and accept every day as a blessing. The prayers and support of many gave me hope and courage to face every day with confidence – today I don’t regret my past but I rejoice to have come out of it stronger than I ever thought. I don’t think much was due to my own strength, but God’s grace and the support of those who invested in me.  After my recent visit to Nyarugusu refugee camp -where I did my high school as mentioned in my first blog- I just can’t believe that people have been in that place for 18 years now. If someone could not have invested in me, I could still be there. I am realizing more that it is possible to make a difference and change someone’s story today.

Fizi's version of a highway. Wait until the rainy season and see

Fizi’s version of a highway. Wait until the rainy season and see how it changes.

What about education?

“Welcome to the refugee camp,” says my husband in his matter-of-fact voice.

Signs as we enter Nyarugusu refugee camp

Signs as we enter Nyarugusu refugee camp

 

Entering Nyarugusu refugee camp. May 1, 2014. Copyright. All rights reserved.

Entering Nyarugusu refugee camp. May 1, 2014. Copyright. All rights reserved.

We had just arrived at the main UN headquarters in Nyarugusu refugee camp. I glance around my surroundings. People were gathered in clusters – some standing with bicycles, others holding children, others sitting on log benches under trees. I saw one woman trying to submit a paper to the UN through a gate. Everything seemed to move in slow motion: maybe because people don’t have jobs to rush to, farms to cultivate, food to gather, and they cannot leave the camp. We drive to my in-laws’ home. My husband directs the driver: “turn left here; take a right at the next dirt road; I remember walking this road so many times.” His family has lived in the refugee camp for 18 years.

Meeting my sisters-in-law for the first time. They welcomed me with such love. Copyright. All rights reserved.

Meeting my sisters-in-law for the first time! They welcomed me with such love. Copyright. All rights reserved.

Multiple women burst out of the house and run to the car to greet us: “Kaka! Wifi!” Hugs, joy, laughter, tears…I was overwhelmed by the love and joyful embrace of my sisters-in-law. It’s such a joy and honour to finally meet my new family: Mom, Dad, sisters, and extended family. The language barrier made communication very difficult, and we did our best to communicate in English and Swahili. This was a really humbling experience for me. Nonetheless, we found ways to talk, make jokes, and share about our lives. I love and appreciate each of them. As we gather for lunch, extended family and close friends arrive. There must have been at least 70 people: aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, children of nieces & nephews, grandchildren… half the family appears to be under 30. I meet my new brothers, cousins, sisters, nieces, nephews. I struggle to ask questions in broken Swahili: “Habari za shule [How is school]?” Nzuri [Good],” they respond.

Sharing a meal and spending time with family in Nyarugusu.  Copyright. All rights reserved.

Sharing a meal and spending time with family in Nyarugusu. Copyright. All rights reserved.

Students persevere in their studies: primary school attendance in the refugee camp is 97% and secondary school is 87%. They face dilapidated buildings, few latrines (washrooms), 1 teacher for 50-100 students, 5-9 students per school desk, and 10 students per textbook. On top of this, girls face further barriers: the risk of rape, as they travel long and isolated distances to collect firewood; early marriage; and pregnancy. Despite these challenges, high school students in the refugee camp excel: last year, they wrote the DR Congo national exam and came out top of the region that they are connected to in DR Congo.Without scholarships, however, they have no opportunity for post-secondary education (DFID, 2013).

High school students excel despite lack of materials, teachers, schools, latrines, and other social barriers. Copyright. All rights reserved.

High school students in the refugee camp excel despite lack of materials, teachers, schools, latrines, and other social barriers. Copyright. All rights reserved.

As I sit with my new family, my sister-in-law slips me a brown paper envelope. “This is for you.” I open it: Dear Madam, I hereby humbly request assistance for a university scholarship. I am a Congolese by citizenship. I have a high school certificate and have worked 4 years as a secondary school teacher. I would deeply appreciate your assistance in seeking a scholarship. Although employed by the UN, teachers receive only 18,000 Tanzanian shillings per month (~$11 CDN). To compare, 1lb. peanuts costs 2,000 TZ shillings. I didn’t know what to say. I imagined myself in this young man’s situation: a young man my age, who has no hope of leaving the refugee camp unless he has funds to study. I felt guilty that my home country has provided me with so many opportunities in life, yet he has been denied even the basics to survive. I knew was also frustrated that I couldn’t promise a scholarship in that moment. Later that evening, I finally allowed all the emotions I had held for the whole day to overwhelm me. As my grief pushed tears out, I felt a physical aching in my chest as I thought of the conditions in Nyarugusu. If I hadn’t seen the situation for myself, I almost wouldn’t have believed that people live in such desperate situations in this day and age.

High school friends come to visit and surprise us with an extremely generous, humbling gift. These friends graduated with my husband in 2001 and still live in Nyarugusu.

High school friends surprise us with an extremely generous, humbling gift. These friends graduated with my husband in 2000 and still live in the refugee camp. After high school, there are no educational opportunities in Nyarugusu.  Copyright. All rights reserved.

Talking with my husband, though, who is himself a high school graduate from Nyarugusu, I was struck by how possible it is to provide hope – at least to some. A full 4-year university career costs about $5000 CDN in Burundi: this means $1250/year for 4 years. How can we say the situation is hopeless for Nyarugusu refugees when the required investment is relatively little? Many people invested in him as struggled to complete his university degree, and he is now a licensed social worker in Canada, and uses his profession to provide hope to others. As our plane touched down in Canada on May 16, my mind was already racing: what can I do? Who can help? There is great urgency to provide hope, especially for young people, who have no hope for the future unless they leave Nyarugusu. As a Canadian, so many times I have thought and heard others say: “There’s just so many problems in the world. What can we do? I don’t think much will ever change.” But changes in individuals’ lives create change in the family and community. Personally, I think it’s worth every effort we have. We have identified 5 people from the refugee camp who could start university in January 2015 if funds were available. We are now seeking partnerships with individuals, churches, and organizations to make this a reality. Please join us: ask questions, reflect on these realities, and consider what you might be able to do in response.