Wake-up Calls

Wake-up Calls

Kjerstin Erickson, founder of Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment (FORGE) writes about her experience working with refugees in Zambia.
Photo Credit: Global X
FORGE works in three refugee camps in Zambia, helping 60,000 refugees build better lives. Photo Credit: Global X
Sometimes, this work is frustrating. Excruciatingly long hours. Constant shortage of funds. The thousands of things that inevitably go wrong when you are working in a poor African country - like the sudden diesel shortage that hit Zambia this week, crippling our vehicles the day that we need to move 12 incoming staff members across the country. Admittedly, I occasionally want to stick out my lip and pout, lamenting the fact that I haven't even gone to a movie in the past 2 years.

The good thing about this line of work is that you can't feel sorry for yourself for long. You can't help but be consistently reminded of how strong the human spirit can be. And unassumingly strong, at that.

I just received this story from our field staff about a man named Antoine, a Congolese refugee who has been running one of our computer training labs since 2005. We've all worked closely with Antoine for the past 2 years, yet strangely nobody knew his story. It's energizing and refreshing to hear about the things that the people around you have overcome - and with what strength and poise, you'd never know the difference…

In this line of work, you can't help but be consistently reminded of how strong the human spirit can be
Antoine was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1981. When he was a 17 year-old schoolboy, the war came to his village. Because Antoine's father's job was to report on human rights abuses, Antoine's family became a natural target for the invading army. They raided his home, tied his father to a tree, and began to beat him. The family fled to the bush for safety, but as they ran they heard gunshots ring through the night. They didn't hear from their father again, and were convinced of his murder.

After his father's death, Antoine went to live with an uncle. His uncle owned a computer and taught Antoine some basic computer skills, enough to land him a job upon completion of high school. As he worked, Antoine's goal was always to go to college to further his computer education.

In 2003, five years after his father's disappearance and presumed death, Antoine received a letter with his father's handwriting and signature. Shocked and thrilled to hear that his father had survived, Antoine and his family travled to Zambia to reunite. Their father had made it to Kala Kala Refugee Camp in Zambia, where he had been trying to reach his family for the past 5 years. Because his father could not return to Congo for fear of his life, the family decided to stay together in Kala camp.

It's energizing and refreshing to hear about the things that the people around you have overcome - and with what strength and poise, you'd never know the difference…
When FORGE went to establish a computer lab in Kala in 2005, Antoine's computer experience made his the natural choice for Computer Instructor. Antoine accepted the opportunity to help his fellow refugees learn the same skills that had helped him in life, and for the past 2 years has been teaching a full load of classes in English, French and Swahili. During this time, Antoine has written a computing textbook over 400 pages long in simple French, including topics in computer basics, Word, Excel, Access, Power Point, and Internet Explorer.

With Congolese refugees now returning home, many of Antoine's former students have contacted him, reporting that they had secured jobs because of their basic computer knowledge.

Antoine is ready to go to college, but refuses to leave until his assistants at the Computer Center are ready to take over in full. In his time with FORGE, Antoine has learned the many ways that his skills can benefit others. When he returns to college, he will study humanitarian organization management. To this, he says, "I now know much about computers, so I'm dreaming to one day help other refugees when my refugee status is gone."




Contributed by Kjerstin Erickson, founder of FORGE. Reprinted with permission from Social Edge.

To read another Global Envision article about African Refugees, see One Night in Ogonyo.



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