Kenya: A story of resilience
18 February 2011

Refugee children in Nairobi. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
The death of my child in a foreign country and my wife’s pregnancy complications remain a bad memory but it has not put me down.
Nairobi, 18 February 2011 – I am a Congolese refugee married with three children. Back in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) I was a farmer. Being farmers, we were disadvantaged since rebels could come when crops were ready and take away food and herds of cattle. 

War erupted in our neighbourhood and since we were unable to attend to our farms in fear for our lives, we were forced to sell the cattle we had left to buy food. The war continued with only a few months of peace for many years. 
Fearing for our lives, we could not bear the unrest anymore and we fled to Rwanda in 2007 where our survival depended on good Samaritans who accommodated us. In Rwanda, life was even more difficult since it was hard to get food and to educate my children. Because our future was so uncertain in Rwanda, I used the little cash I had saved to bring my family into Kenya, passing through Uganda. 

We arrived in Kenya in June 2009. A Congolese family accommodated us for a while. They also gave me information on where we would be assisted with food. I went and registered with JRS at a Catholic parish in Kayole, in the eastern part of Nairobi. For six months we received food assistance and other items such as blankets, cooking utensils, soap and sanitary pads for my wife.

Lucky to find a job

When the six months were over, I was lucky to find a job with a Kenyan who hired me to look after his cattle. From the salary I bought food and paid the house rent and school fees for my children.

In August 2009 my wife became pregnant and in February 2010 she had some complications. I took her to a city council clinic that referred her to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) but we could not afford the hospital services. Then we asked the GIZ [Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit] for help. They agreed to assist us and my wife was admitted to KNH.

With my wife in the hospital, life became harder and harder since I had to look after her and the children. One day, while I was at the hospital to check on my wife, the power went off at home. My four-year-old girl wanted to go to the toilet, so she took a burning candle with her which set her dress ablaze. She was burned to death despite of all efforts to save her life on the way to the hospital. 

Back to assistance

The confusion around my daughter’s death, the visits at the hospital and the time I spent looking after my children all became too much for me and I was unable to continue with my job. 

In December 2010, after the burial of my daughter, I went back to the parish where I had received food assistance and presented my case to the JRS social worker again. He listened to my struggles, reviewed my case and once again I received food assistance for three months which eased my burden. The church assists me with paying the house rent. 

With the assistance they offered me and my family as refugees in Kenya, JRS has made a very positive impact on my life. It has given hope to my entire family. The Kenyans have also been very good neighbours. 

The death of my child in a foreign country and my wife’s pregnancy complications remain a bad memory but it has not put me down. I look forward to a better future since my wife is getting better. I’m hoping to get back to my feet and to fully support my family. I also hope there will be peace in the DRC one day.