Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Lot to be Thankful For...

A few months ago the expat community here in Maseru received an email from an Australian Human Rights Lawyer asking for volunteers to tutor English to a group of Rwandan and Congolese refugees. I jumped at the chance to be involved with this project for a number of reasons. Mostly I thought it would be a neat experience, a way to meet new people and a good way to spend some of my free time after work. In the past few years I have become particularly interested in Rwanda and the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I spent a little bit of time in Rwanda in 2008 and was immediately drawn into its intensity and history. Well I guess it is not really so historic, as much of the conflict that was in Rwanda in 1994 has shifted to the Eastern Congo. I am sure that many of you are aware of some of the disturbing statistics from the genocide in Rwanda, the worst being approximately one million people killed in a mere 100 days.

So I have been tutoring a woman from Southern Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. South Kivu is the epicenter of the conflict. A lot of the time after we finish our English lesson she will tell me bits and pieces of what it is like there and how she and her family came to live in Lesotho. Her husband is Tutsi and so his life was being threatened in the DRC. He ran from home one day without his family because it wasn’t safe for him at home anymore. She ran at some point in 2006 with her son and her unborn baby girl. Her baby girl was born while she was on the run in Burundi. They lived in South Africa for two years near Johannesburg, however recently there have been a number of xenophobic attacks. Their neighbour, who was from Mozambique, was murdered, so the following day they ran for Lesotho where they have been living for the past 2 years. She and her husband are wonderful people and have three children, only two of which were able to come with them to Lesotho. The third child, a girl, lives with one of their sisters in the DRC. As it turns out, when she ran back in 2006, she didn’t have enough transport money to go and pick her daughter up from school, and was in so much danger that she had to leave without her. She told me one night with tears in her eyes that she hadn’t heard from her daughter, who is only 9 years old, in three months and had no idea where she was. Keep in mind that the DRC is currently considered the rape capital of the world.

Initially when I started tutoring we were working out of the Refugee Camp here in Maseru, however, since then the family has been kicked out of the camp because they were told that they have been bringing the white people around and therefore can afford to live on their own. In my three months here I have seen little to no logic on a lot of issues. So, the family has been moved to another part of town and I have no idea what the situation is now with payment for the house or anything. Here in Lesotho, refugees receive a small monthly stipend, which is more than most health care workers who are Basotho receive every month. And because of this many local people resent refugees and really don’t want them here.

A couple of weeks ago, on Canadian Thanksgiving I went to their new house to tutor. I arrived to find that their current situation is far worse than it was in the refugee camp. Their small one room house (approx. the size of my bedroom) has a large hole in the roof and because we are in rainy season it leaks heavily. They have no running water, no toilet, no electricity, their window doesn’t close and worst of all they told me that they are afraid living there because they feel threatened by their neighbours. The four members of the family, mom, dad and the two young children all sleep in one bed behind a curtain.

I came home that night to a warm house, and had a nice meal with my roommate. It is times like this that I am truly thankful for the life that I have been given. I come from a country where I feel safe everyday, where I have two parents with jobs, friends that I can trust, access to education, and endless opportunity. This Thanksgiving I had a lot to be thankful for…

1 comment:

  1. Thank-you Emma!!! It is sooooo great to see the pics and start to hear you stories. You are doing amazing things, making a difference in what must seem so futile at times. Keep your spirits high and know that you are thought of often.
    Bumped into the Cleavers today at you remember what coffee tastes like? How does it compare with the offerings in Africa?
    I hear you have some fun plans for the Xmas break good for you...time is moving quickly!
    Be well and take care of yourself.