“I was a young boy then,” Papa sighed and sat down in his chair. “One morning, I went hunting for wild pig with my friends, when I saw smoke billowing from our village. My friends were so concentrated that they didn’t notice it, but then gunshots sounded, and we realized something was very wrong. We didn’t know what to do. Was it the war again?” Papa was playing with the cutlery, he hadn’t eaten a single bite and he looked lost, his eyes full of agony. “I thought we’d gotten used to the whole war issue,” he said with one hand on his left cheek, and he seemed old to me in that moment, as if getting the story out had added years to him. “Every attack was worse than the one before. We managed to get into the village, our hearts pounding loud as drums. The Maimai, our local soldiers, had come to fight back. Many were injured but in the end, they managed to repel the enemies. Some women got raped, houses burned down, goods were destroyed and some families lost their loved ones. It was a terrible time.” His lips tightened, as if he was trying to keep his pain inside, but his eyes became watery, reflecting the light from the lamp that hung on the ceiling. My baby sister felt warm in my arms. Although she didn’t understand, she soon would. I felt lost, angry and scared – not just for my sake, but for hers as well. I couldn’t eat. Papa continued narrating about the cyclical nature of their lives: a few years of peace and then war would break out again. During one of those periods of war he married Mom and I was born soon after. So many very dangerous things happened back then, we’d surely die if we were to stay. So he sought safety and peace elsewhere. After the meal, we all went to bed, our hearts were heavy but soon sleep took hold.
Growing up, I learned home is where I was currently dwelling. Home meant peace, prosperity and safety because what other home was there to return to?
Survival. On my way to the market the next morning, I repeated that word as many times as I could. It was June, the sun was low in the sky, casting long shadows. I was grateful I hadn’t lived through what my parents did. I felt very appreciative for the UNHCR, FWP, TDH, World Vision, JRS, Child Line, Reed Cross and so many other organizations who helped us. Still, life was uncertain. Many people just sat, waiting for the future to improve. Decent jobs could not be accessed due to our refugee status and the only hope being to be resettled overseas, but this is a super unpredictable process, while the future must be built NOW!
Most of us youngsters lack exposure to opportunities and very few think they can make it in life. The negative villain that is part of us all causes a lot of harm. It keeps telling, “As a refugee, what could you do?” It still feels like yesterday when I almost became a victim myself. I was in the sixth grade of primary school and saw no need to continue, knowing I couldn’t attain a future studies or work. Thanks to my parents, who motivated me to take extra lessons with half of our monthly food distribution as payment, I stayed and managed to pass to grade seven, which allowed me to get a secondary scholarship from one of the organizations supporting refugee students.
My worst fears came true when one of my male friends began drinking to release stress. His drinking made me and my other friends feel insecure around him. We told him alcohol won’t solve his problems, that it would slowly destroy him, but he’d just smile and say it’s his life and his choice. We broke contact when we heard he joined a gang of other boys and became involved in robbery in our neighborhood. It was so sad to watch a young, outgoing boy lose it all before his life had even started.
Is destiny really in our hands? Did my friend really choose to drink, or did he simply have no other options? We have to stand steadfast, before life robs us of our future. No matter how bad the present seems to be, we have to keep trying to create and build the life we desire.
We were a family of four girls, and we lived for ten years in a two-room house. Privacy was a luxury. Food as well. Some days, salt porridge was all we had as we waited for the food distribution at the end of the month. Even then, Mom told us to be grateful, for some of our friends were sleeping with empty stomachs.
As all of that was happening, life barely seemed to change. It never revealed a glimpse of even a decent life. As young as I was, I knew life was unfair, but I had no idea my parents were going through the worst. They had to come this far just to make our life a better and secure. The time had come for us children to choose our own path, to do our part to better the world.
As years passed by, I became more thoughtful and more concerned in helping create a world full of possibilities, a world where camp dwellers are allowed to apply for jobs regardless of status. A world where talented, artistic refugees receive the right exposure, get opportunities to pursue their career and to live a much-fulfilled life. A world that encourages young people in camps to express themselves freely, a world filled with a belief in the future, where everybody can live successfully and peacefully together no matter their current circumstances.
23 October, 2023