Richard’s Story is re-posted with permission from GirlUp
My dad was a Kabila soldier. He was killed in a mission. One night in 2003, after my dad had passed, the rebels attacked our house. They arrested my mom, beat her, and took her to jail where we couldn’t see her. My two sisters, brother and I couldn’t find her and believed the rebels did it because they knew my dad was a soldier. Soon after, we moved to our uncle’s house. That’s when we learned that if the military found out where we were, they would kill us – all because my dad had served in the army of Laurent Desire Kabila, the former President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
After two years without any news from mom, we didn’t know if she was still alive. Then my uncle heard that my mom was in Cameroon and looking for us. We didn’t know the exact place where she was living but decided to look for her because we had nothing left in Congo – our house was destroyed and everything was gone. So my sisters, brother, nephew and I took a boat from Kinshasa, the capital city, to Congo Brazzaville, a small country next to my country. It was nighttime when we reached the shore of Brazzaville. A nice woman allowed us to sleep in her home. The following day, we took a us from Congo Brazzaville to Gabon, a small country next to Cameroon.
We traveled for another two days before arriving in Cameroon. Once we got there, we asked the bus driver if he would allow us to spend the night in his home. Thankfully, he accepted. In the morning, we asked him about UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency). He told us that it was still far and we would have to take another bus. So we continued on our journey onto Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon. We found another place to spend the night and went to the UNHCR office after we woke up.
As we entered the office, we told the UNHCR staff that we were refugees looking for protection and then asked if my mom was registered in their system. They said yes, gave us her phone number, and allowed us to call our mom. It was such a joy to speak with her and she came right to the office.This was in 2006, so it had been three years since the night the rebels had attacked our house.
There weren’t any refugee camps in Yaounde, so we stayed with my mom in a small room in the city neighborhood until we received news about moving to another country. UNHCR gave us money so we could start school and they also gave us things like soap, money to buy clothes, and transportation to visit the doctor. We were also fortunate to get identification cards that we could use while we were in Cameroon.
UNHCR staff members were also our friends. They came and visited with us and told us that their mission was to protect us and send us to a country where we could live peacefully and start a new life.
One day, Australian UNHCR officers came to interview us. We thought we would be moving to Australia, but they denied us because one of my sisters was pregnant. This was terrible news for us but UNHCR consoled us and told us that if we waited another two years, we would be able to go to the United States.
In 2008, the U.S. UNHCR officers came to interview us. We passed the interview and they gave us visas for the U.S.! We were extremely happy and UNHCR helped make our trip possible by purchasing airline and bus tickets. The day we left Cameroon for the U.S. was the most beautiful day of my life. I will never forget it.
On September 24, 2008, we arrived in Louisville, Kentucky. UNHCR and Catholic Charities had helped set up an apartment with everything we needed. It was incredible. There was food in the refrigerator and we had beds, clothes, soap, a table, spoons – even a television. Catholic Charities helped us adjust to life in the U.S. They put me in school and found jobs for my mom and my siblings. I have also been able to work with the United Nations Association in Louisville.
My love for the United Nations and UNHCR is extremely strong. They saved me, they protected me, and they changed my life. Because of this, I have decided that I want to work with the UN and UNHCR after I finish college. I hope to help other people in the same way they helped me.
Are you grateful to be safe at home in your own country on Independence Day?
Not everyone is so lucky. Around the world, there are 42.5 million people like Richard — who, through no fault of their own, were forced to abandon their homes forever in order to save their own lives.
Some, like Richard, are able to resettle in a new home. Others spend years, even decades, unable to return home or to begin a new life.
Show your support for refugees like Richard with a Blue Key!
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