By: Celestin M.
I am very happy again to update my story, especially as a Refugee from DRC, and bring your attention to some organizations which are doing good things for refugees in Africa.
It was in 1996 when war broke out in the eastern Congo DRC. My family finished almost 6 months sleeping in the bush [rather than in our home. It was too dangerous to stay in the village at night because of the war]. I was young--around 12 years--with my four siblings.
Then later, it was one Tuesday. I had gone to the market with my daddy. While in the market, they started shutting bombs. These were more than enough. People died in front of my eyes. Our customs were destroyed.
By that time, we finished around 3 days before crossing to Uganda on foot. Me and my Dad, we didn’t know where my mom and my four siblings went. It was after three days, we meet them at the transit center in Uganda known as Nyakabande reception center. By pure luck and grace, we found them and we were not separated after this.
After six months, we were taken to to the Settlement in 05/09/1997. This place is called settlement because people get a piece of land to cultivate some greens. But life was not easy. Many people died in the camp/settlement. There was poor education: no high school, two elementary schools, serving around 45,000 people and mostly children without parents. I could not go to school myself. Life was hard after my elementary school. I could not continue with the school because my family could not manage to take me to high school [due to school fees.]
With the help of COBURWAS/CIYOTA I managed to go to school and have Certificate in project planning and management, through CIYOTA. With all the life story I went through, I and my fellow refugees, CIYOTA has been so much to us.
The work they are doing is a lot: CIYOTA is an organization started by refugees in Kyangwali settlement that works in education for refugees and children in the settlement and worldwide. Their bio says, "COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA) is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization established by refugee youth in December 2005 in Kyangwali refugee settlement, Uganda. The founders arrived in Kyangwali from Congo (DRC), Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan (CO-BU-RWA-S) along with thousands of refugees fleeing violence and problems resulting from conflicts in their home countries. What began as an inclusive youth-led club set to protect and improve the lives of the most vulnerable in their midst, CIYOTA has now become a source and model of educational excellence, not just for conflict-affected African refugees but also for local Ugandans. CIYOTA recognizes the power of education as a pathway out of poverty, as well as a means to heal conflict, create social cohesion, and spur economic growth. Education for youth through methods that also build corresponding commitment and support of families and the community is therefore the focus of CIYOTA’s work." It was thanks to this organization that I received my education and that thousands of other refugees have gone to school in Kyangwali settlement. We have done all this in spite of the wars and our experiences.
Now you can see that COBURWAS school is ranked some of the best in Uganda.
And I pray hard that God can remember my people in the camps in Africa, even others in DRC. Right now, people are becoming refugees in their own country. As I talk now, where I came from in the refugee camp, it hosts 113,000 refugees. It means if I come together, the whole country like Uganda hosts like 1.2 Million refugees. It’s not easy and most of them are from DRC and South Sudan.
I appreciate the the government of Uganda for accepting refugees to stay peaceful in the country. I thank the well wishers and donors, the implementing agencies like UNHCR, for the great work done by them on the other side. I wish to thank the Government of the USA also for hosting refugees from different countries.
But moreso, I request them to really add more. There is more for them to do. Because we still have a lot to do, especially in Africa. I am in the USA now, but there are millions of people from my country and people I love who are still in these bad conditions. Please consider helping COBURWAS/CIYOTA continue their mission. They are making life better for people every day. This is all we can ask.
I request those who fear supporting refugees can support some of the agencies which help refugees like in Uganda and the USA. I have some examples of the organizations like COBURWAS/CIYOTA, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Jewish Family and Community Services here in Pittsburgh, and AJAPO in Pittsburgh, to mention a few. You can donate your time, your money, your work to the above organizations for better future for young children in schools and other activities.
I am fine now, based in the USA in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. But with your help Africa has a chance, and the Congo can change. Thank you.
Published by Celestin as part of the Pittsburgh Refugee Stories Oral History Project with English language support from Megan Crutcher.
By: Megan Crutcher
We set forth on this project seeking to break prominent narratives of African refugees in the United States and Pittsburgh—from the national security myth, to the ‘model refugee’ trope, to the focus on refugee hardships over successes. We asked how and why African refugees have come to Pittsburgh, what their experiences with America have been, and how they see Africa, family, the USA, home, and the refugee crisis in general. We asked narrators to guide the story and to share whatever they wanted us to know. We interviewed factory machine operators, mothers, fathers, students. The stories that follow will make you laugh, make you cry, transport you to another place and time, and ultimately—we hope—spur you (whoever you are) to action. We welcome future or alternate directions to this project.
We asked for connections. What we received were enduring, vibrant partnerships with narrators—people who have faced unspeakable hardship yet hold incredible hopes and dreams for life in America. And despite the historic instability forced upon them, most of the narrators saw America as a home and Americans as people who supported and welcomed refugees.
Narrator Celestin spelled it out the best. Why did we embark on this project? Why African refugees in Pittsburgh? He said,
"Because the communities down there is suffering. Refugees in the camps. Like, right now, I know there are one hundred plus. Like Uganda only is carrying 1.3 [million] refugees. So that’s too much. Whereby you can find, like, when they put the ban of the United States not receiving more refugees—I don’t know where they are going. I don’t know how they will survive. Because, I myself, I have my in-laws there. My brother in-laws, my sister in-laws, my father, my mother in-laws, they are all still in Africa. They have their cases, but they have never gone anywhere because of too much back, always. Nothing happening to them. So you find we are worried of how the life continues, and yet more refugees are coming in from Democratic Republic of Congo. Up to now, people are still fighting. People—more refugees coming. So life is not easy as I talk right now. When you go to different countries, you find people are suffering. Not only Congo but also other refugees. As I talk to you know, I remember South Sudan is in trouble. Many refugees are coming in. As I talk to you now, many people from Syria, they are now fleeing from Syria to different countries. So it’s not only Congo, it’s not only Sudan, not Syrians, but different refugees coming from worldwide. So when I see like all that one happening, when you go on Google, you go on the news, you find a lot of things happening, many people becoming refugees."