Striving in a Refugee Camp

By Gilbert Dusengimana
Gilbert Dusengimana's stories

As soon as the war broke out in Rwanda life turned upside down. I was forced to leave everything behind and flee to a refugee camp in Tanzania. At first, the camp seemed like a safe haven, but soon I realized that life was going to be difficult. It was overcrowded, thousands of people were crammed into small tents. There were not enough resources to go around, and basic necessities like food and water were often in short supply. The scorching heat made life even more difficult, and I struggled to adapt.

Despite the many challenges, I was determined to make the most of my situation. I knew the only way to survive was through hard work and resourcefulness. I began volunteering at the camp’s medical center, taking care for the sick and injured. I had no medical training, but I was motivated and willing to learn. I shadowed the doctors and nurses, asking questions and absorbing everything I could about healthcare. As time went by, I got very good at dressing wounds, administering basic medications, and providing emotional support to patients.

My work at the medical center gave me a sense of purpose and it also helped me make new friends. I met other refugees who were struggling with live in the camp as well, and we bonded over our shared experiences. We talked about our families, our homes, and hopes for the future. Unfortunately, I didn’t earn enough money at the medical center to sustain myself. I needed to find a way to earn money and provide for myself, so I started taking on odd jobs such as sweeping floors, fetching water, and helping with construction.

I learned English in school back home, but never had the opportunity to use it in the camp. One day, a group of aid workers arrived from the United States, and I saw an opportunity to put my language skills to use. They needed a translator to help them communicate with the local officials and refugees in the camp. I jumped at the chance, eager to prove my worth and to make a difference in the lives of my fellow refugees.

Over the next few weeks, I worked with the aid workers, translating their conversations with local officials about the aid needed in the camp to improve the lives of the refugees. I discussed the difficulties the refugees faced with them, and how vocational training and support in areas like tailoring, carpentry, and construction could help them rebuild their lives.

However, as a translator navigating the complicated bureaucracy of the refugee camp was a great challenge. The aid workers and I had to go through endless layers of paperwork and regulations to access the resources needed to support my fellow refugees. The bureaucracy often created delays, and sometimes the aid we needed did not arrive in time. I had to fill out endless forms, wait in long lines, and deal with officials who seemed more interested in their own interests than in helping the refugees.

As I spent most of my time with the aid workers from the US, I was viewed differently by the people living in the camp than before. They would gossip about me, saying I was a favored refugee over everyone living there. It made me feel bad since I wasn’t gaining anything special from the aid workers. I would explain that I’m working to help the aid worker communicate effectively, and that I only wanted to help, but the gossip continued. It was frustrating, but I kept reminding myself that I was doing this for a greater good.

Despite the challenges, I felt a sense of pride in my work. I was grateful for the opportunity to use my language skills to help others and to bring attention to the needs of the refugees in the camp. As I worked with aid providers to improve the lives of refugees, I realized that the power of language and communication can bridge cultural differences and bring hope to even the most desperate situations.
In the end, I was proud of myself. I had used my language skills to make a difference, and I had gained a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by my fellow refugees. I knew that my work as a translator was just a small part of a much larger effort, but I also knew that every small step forward was a step in the right direction.

But even with my hard work and resourcefulness, I could not escape the realities of life in the refugee camp. I still struggled to find enough food and clean water, and worried about my future. Would I ever be able to leave the camp and rebuild my life?

Despite these challenges, I continued to work hard and to seek out opportunities to improve my situation. Eventually, my perseverance paid off. A local aid organization offered me a job as a community translator, and I was able to move into a larger tent with better living conditions. I felt a glimmer of hope that perhaps, someday, I might be able to leave the camp and start a new life.

One of my fondest memories was the day I discovered a small garden hidden away behind one of the tents. It was a simple garden, with rows of vegetables and herbs growing in neat little rows. But to me, it was like a secret oasis in the midst of all the chaos and hardship.

I visited the garden every day, watching the plants grow taller and stronger. Sometimes I would help the woman who tended the garden watering the plants and pulling out weeds. Other times, I simply sat among the plants and listened to birds and insects buzzing all around.

One day, the woman who tended the garden offered to teach me how to grow my own plants. She showed me how to plant seeds, how to water them, and how to care for them to make sure they grow well. I was fascinated by the whole process, and I spent hours each day tending to my own little patch of soil.

Over time, potatoes, carrots, spinach, rosemary, and tarragon with green colors and pleasant scents grew abundantly on this patch of land. I started sharing my harvest with my family and friends in the camp, and they were all amazed at what I had accomplished. It was a small thing, but it gave me a sense of purpose and pride in a place where it was easy to feel hopeless and helpless.

I was proud of the garden that I had created in the refugee camp. It started as a small plot of land, but with hard work and dedication, I managed to cultivate a beautiful array of vegetables and herbs. The garden not only provided fresh and nutritious food, but it also gave a sense of purpose and accomplishment. I enjoyed spending my mornings tending to the plants, carefully pruning and watering each one. The vibrant colors and fragrant aromas of the herbs made me feel like I was in a peaceful oasis, far away from the turmoil of the world outside the camp. I was grateful for the opportunity to create something beautiful and meaningful, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

The garden was more than just a collection of plants and flowers. It was a source of pride and joy, a space where I could connect with nature and find peace in the chaos of everyday life. Whether I was planting new seeds or weeding out old ones, every moment I spent in the garden was a moment of pure bliss. Over months, my garden had taught me many valuable lessons. It had taught me patience, as I waited for each plant to grow and blossom in its own time. It had taught me resilience, as I battled pests and diseases that threatened to destroy everything I had worked so hard to create. And perhaps most importantly, it had taught me the importance of taking care of the world around me.

As I looked out at my garden, I realized that it was a microcosm of the natural world. It was a reminder that everything in life is interconnected, and that our actions have consequences that reach far beyond our own lives. By nurturing my garden, I was doing my part to protect and preserve the environment, one small patch of earth at a time.

Refugee Camp life was difficult but was also helpful somehow. I knew that it had been a difficult journey but, I also realized that it had taught me valuable lessons about resilience, compassion, and the power of community. I had learned that even in the most challenging environment.

19 April, 2023