Cold Days

By Derike Ingabire

I fled my home country Burundi because of tribalism and conflict that was there between my mother’s family and my father’s. I was four-years old. My mum is a Hutu and my father is a Tutsi. My father was killed by his brothers because he refused to leave my mum and us. Before my father died, due to threat and torture, my mum took us to our grandmother and we stayed at her in-laws’ place. After my dad passed away my mum was attacked but she escaped after they set her house on fire. They followed us to my grandma’s place and also set the house on fire for us to die at night, but we escaped and my grandma sustained burn injuries.

We migrated to Uganda but my grandma thought that my mum had not followed us and she sent home a letter with all the details to inform her how to find us. Unfortunately the letter reached our father’s brothers and they followed us to Uganda and I was stabbed with a knife but I didn’t die. This was the worst moment of my life. I felt like I was holding death in my small bare hands. I lost a lot of blood. The villagers were all shocked and scared at the same time.

This made the village leaders ask us to move away since they didn’t want more problems. The local security guided us and we boarded a bus to Kenya and arrived at the UNHCR office in Nairobi. I was still in total pain but we had to travel. It was a one-day journey to Kenya and we had no money to buy food. All I was taking was painkillers to help reduce the pain of the wound. When we arrived they took me to the hospital to treat my wound since I was even urinating blood. We stayed in Nairobi for two or three weeks. We were sleeping outside the UNHCR office. We did not have money to buy food and water. We had to beg for money by the roadside in order to get something to eat. Sometimes we went to the hotels and restaurants to ask for leftovers.

On December 18, 2005, UNHCR gave us money for transport to the Kakuma refugee camp. Kakuma refugee camp is located in Turkana County, a rift valley province in Kenya. It comprises of many nationalities from the African continent and even Asia. They told us we have to go to a refugee camp because that is where we deserve to be and we will be helped. We were so happy that finally we are going to get help or maybe a home. They also gave us some money for meals on our way to Kakuma. The journey was long and tiresome. It took us two days from Nairobi to Kakuma. It was such a tiresome journey. Being a child with a knife wound traveling hundreds of kilometers I felt like was going to die in that bus. We arrived in the camp at around 5:00pm (East African Time).

We were welcomed by dust and I wondered if this was the place we are going to stay or if our journey was still proceeding. I asked my grandmother and she told me that this was our new home now. I felt so bad because of the environmental conditions at the camp. It looked like a semi-desert. We then went into the community and we were welcomed by other refugees from Burundi. The place looked so different from home. They were using trees with thorns as the fences. What surprised me most was the fridge. When we asked for cold water they brought a jerrycan covered with a blanket and called it a “fridge.” Everything about this place looked mysterious to me. The community leader gave us a place to spend the night. He even gave us food and water. We ate like we had not eaten for months. We were very hungry. We then slept in a house they gave us. In the morning, we went to the reception center, the place where new arrivals are registered to stay for sometime before going to live outside the camp.

We went to the office and got registered. They gave us our tents where we were going to sleep. I was still in pain and they called the ambulance. I was rushed to the hospital. The service was free. They treated my wound to stop the bleeding and gave me some pills because I was urinating blood. We went back to the reception center in the morning. The food they gave us was unpleasant and new to us. We had to eat it because we had no option. After two months in the camp they released us to go into the community. They gave us a house and we started living. I then believed that this is our home now. What I loved about this place is that I felt so peaceful and safe. Regardless of the harsh environmental condition, I felt so good being in our new home. I have never been so peaceful like I was here. We had been running for so long. I did not even want to remember anything that we went through. It felt like opening healed wounds in my heart. I was just happy to be in our new home.

I grew up here and in my childhood I went through many challenging times. The heat of the sun in Turkana County was too much. My nose was bleeding every time I walked in the sun. My eyes turned red because of too much dust blowing in the atmosphere. I also suffered from asthma and this really disturbed me a lot. The health services we had were very poor because there were no qualified medical doctors and not enough medicines. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be here. After all we had gone through, I really felt we deserved somewhere better. I saw many children die due to malnutrition. Women experienced domestic violence every day. At night, armed robbers began invading our community to steal food, clothes, and the little money we had. In these attacks many people lost their lives. I remember a night when they shot an eight-year old boy in the stomach. All the intestines came out. He lost a lot of blood. He was taken to a private hospital by UNHCR for treatment. I realized that my new home wasn’t safe anymore. I wished we had another place to run to. Many girls and women were raped but nothing was done to the perpetrators. In school the children received corporal punishments. We had free primary education but were in a class of around 200 pupils. The classrooms were poorly constructed. The water was also scarce and that made life feel like hell to me.

I was raised from age four by a single mother who is an illiterate and did not have a job. I never got to play or own toys because we didn’t have any. I loved football and had the dream of becoming a professional footballer when I grew up. My role model was Wayne Rooney who was playing for Manchester United then. I had no one to support or mentor me. I watched many children’s dreams crash because no one cared about their dreams. We were children and we were refugees, treated like we have no worth because to others we seemed like a bunch of desperate kids.

In 2010 when I was sixteen-years old, I was chosen to represent the refugee children in Kenya in the Kenya Children’s Assembly. I am one of the founders. This was organized by the government of Kenya in partnership with The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). It was one of the best moments of my life. I looked at this opportunity as the door opening to my better future. I took it as a breakthrough that would change my life, not only mine but all the refugee children in Kenya. I knew this was a platform where refugee children could express themselves and advocate for their rights. I also thought that through this assembly many children will be helped and become good leaders in the community.

When I went to my first conference in Nakuru, Kenya, I was given pocket money by the government. The money was not given directly, but to the LWF officer who accompanied me because I was a child. We spent three days in Nakuru. The place was nice. We ate good meals and slept on luxurious beds. The atmosphere was just fantastic. I felt good and happy there. The meals were delicious, the best meals I’d tasted in my entire life. When we finished the conference I asked for my pocket money so that I can buy some books and other things for my family. The LWF officer told me that the money wasn’t meant for me. He said that he would take the money back to his office. I was so annoyed and angry. I became so mad and I realized that this man had taken what rightfully belonged to me. I cried and no one was there to help me. I wanted to buy sugar for my family and some text books for my studies. I was imagining the shame of going home empty-handed. Everyone was expecting me to return with something, especially my younger siblings.

I went back to the camp angry and explained it to my mother. My mother advised me to stand up for my rights and report the LWF officer to the office. The next day I went to the office and met with his manager. I told the manager everything and he told me to go home and calm down. He also said that he would call for a meeting where we could talk about the issue. To my surprise there was never any meeting. I was not even called for any briefing before the next conference in Nairobi. I asked about it and they told me that the children’s assembly project had ended. When I asked for more information, they chased me out of the office.

I was so disappointed. I felt betrayed. The people who are supposed to protect and care for refuge children are the ones who make life difficult. They killed my hopes and visions. They also killed the hopes of thousands of refugee children in the camp. They failed to support the kids in the camp. I think it’s because they were very selfish. They did not have any good intentions for the future of these kids. I also think they were corrupt, that they were using funds meant for the children for their personal gain. Most of them were Kenyan nationals and they did not care about the lives, dreams, passions, or happiness of refugee children who are foreigners in their country.

27 November, 2022