Friday, June 24, 2016

From a refugee camp in Africa...


The steps for taking a family picture with a toddler.  (Apparently they apply no matter where you live.) 


Step 1:  Parents prepare for the picture


Step 2: Toddler stands still for the picture

Step 3: Parents give up on that

Step 4: Toddler celebrates

This is Mapendo and her husband,along with her 2 sons and the 2 nieces that she cares for.  They have been in this refugee camp for 5 months.  They previously were in another refugee camp in another country.  In fact they have been forced to flee their home in Congo at least 4 different times.  Both Mapendo and her husband wear metal leg braces and walk with crutches.  Can you imagine what it is like to flee for your life and carry these little guys with you...that one who won't even stand still for a photo?  Can you imagine what it is like fleeing with these young nieces through war zones in which rape is far, far too common?  The questions go on...

We have an amazing opportunity.  After years of being refugees, of fleeing in circles, again and again...Mapendo and her family (and Argentine and her family) are being sponsored for resettlement in Canada by Athabasca Interfaith Refugee Sponsorship Society.

It is a long process, involving a lot of documentation and a lot of waiting.  And a lot of friends helping us out along the way.  I have been working on filling out the documentation for months now.  It has been countless hours on the phone with each person, reliving the events that brought them here.  It is a crazy process.  Here is how Argentine and Mapendo described their trip to the refugee camp. 

We took a bus.  When we got on the bus everyone told us "that road is very dangerous.  You might make it or you might not.  All you can do is pray."  While we were riding in the bus we heard shooting up ahead.  Our driver stopped the bus.  He got out and walked ahead in the forest to try and see what was happening.  All the other passengers got out of the bus and hid themselves along the sides of the road.  But not us.  We just sat there in the middle of the bus.  Our disabilities make it hard to get in and our of the bus.  So we knew there was nothing we could do but sit there and pray in that empty bus.  After a while the driver would get back in the bus and drive us forward. We passed by the bus that had gone before us. It had been stopped by bandits and pillaged.  They took everything from those people, even their clothes.  Some people had been hurt.  Some people had been killed.  We drove on.  And then we heard shooting again.  The driver stopped the bus again.  All the people got out of the bus again.  And we just sat there...again.  And prayed...  That is what it was like...the whole way.

This was just one small story, of the road they traveled to get out of Congo.  But the truth is that each one of these 10 people has a million stories like this.  To listen to their stories is to break your heart again and again.  But it is also to marvel...marvel that they have survived.  And it is to understand...understand in an instant... what it would mean for these 10 people to have the chance to live in a place where the word "safe" has meaning...where the bus doesn't stop again and again., listening for the sound of shooting around the next bend in the road. 

 I love this picture of Mapendo's 2 sons. After months spent listening to the stories of war, it brings me back to hope.  You wouldn't know that these little guys are refugees.  They are just little guys.  Filled with lots of giggling and so much promise.

And like all of us, they deserve a future where they don't have to listen for shooting around the next bend in the road.  And the great news is that we have a good chance of giving them that.

*SHOP:    Argentine and Mapendo (along with 2 other disabled women who have remained in Congo) sew beautiful handcrafted bags.  Each purchase is an affirmation of their dignity, beauty and talent.  

 *Resettlement FundYou can donate to this fund on our website.  Donations here help us prove that our Canadian friends at AIRSS will have enough money to care for Mapendo and Argentine and their families when they arrive in Canada.

*Refugee Fund:  This fund helps care for the women and their families while they are still refugees in Africa.  It is a long waiting process until the group can get resettled in Canada and in the meantime emergencies happen and life is hard.  We are currently working on moving the women from the refugee camp to a safer place closer to a hospital so Argentine can give birth in a safe environment and so that they all can get better medical care.