As a child, Marc wasn’t old enough to understand the chaos that enveloped the Democratic Republic of Congo. His family moved to Rwanda when he was four to escape the ongoing civil war. But the aftermath of the civil war left the country divided, and when he returned to DRC at age 12, he was exposed to a new kind of hatred that threatened his life.
“Everyone who looked Burundi or Rwandese had to be killed. Our neighbors started hunting us. If they asked you your name and it sounded Burundi or Rwandese, they would just kill you,” Marc recalled.
He was frightened, and the stress of always having to look over his shoulder left him drained. He craved the freedom of a peaceful childhood. “Even though I was a little kid, police and soldiers used to stop and interrogate me as if I was a man, which I could not understand. I wanted that to stop,” he said.
The dangerous environment drove Marc’s family to relocate to Burundi, where they were placed into a refugee camp. His parents and seven siblings lived in a small house made of mud with just two rooms. Only his sisters could sleep indoors, so Marc and his brothers found places to sleep outside. Despite the “bad conditions,” however, Marc felt more protected than he had ever felt before. He could play with other children without being bullied and they had enough food to eat.
Burundi conditions began to worsen in 2015. Each night became filled with the echoes of gunshots. Just before the turmoil could reach their camp, Marc and his family were selected to relocate to the U.S. It was a miracle.
Still, Marc was uncomfortable. Americans would often ask where he was from because of his accent. Having previously lived in a country that discriminated against his tribe, the endless questions made him feel like he had a target on his back. Resettlement services helped ease his discomfort; after helping his family find jobs, taking his brothers and sisters to school, and frequent check-ins, his caseworkers were the first friendly faces Marc had seen in a long time.
Then, without warning, medical disaster struck. Marc was unable to attend college as he had planned. Instead, he spent most of 2017 and early 2018 in and out of hospitals. The medicine prescribed for his eye problems destroyed his immune system and stomach.
“I was feeling a lot of pain in my stomach. I couldn’t breathe or bathe and was in very very bad shape. I was hospitalized in Chicago; more medicine and surgeries,” Marc said. He had to completely readjust after his long recovery period and was reluctant to start college.
His caseworker, Jen Wood,* met Marc’s struggles with compassion and encouragement. She slowly guided him back to his path with kind words that gave him hope. She told him he could do it, and he started to believe it.
Stillness is a learning process, but the kind staff that helped Marc understand American culture and uplifted him in his time of need reignited an ember of trust he had long forgotten. He’s working on his Liberal Arts degree at Blackhawk college and no longer sees the conflict of his past reflected in his future.
“Right now, I’m feeling good, because I can say that I’m safe,” Marc ended.
He sees a tranquil future abundant with opportunity – and all it took was the empathy of a few others to show him the strength in his heart.
Written by Erica Parrigin