The Democratic Republic of Congo has 25 provinces and over 200 tribes, but they all experience violence and discrimination. Eddy recently reunited with his brother, niece, and nephew who stayed behind in a refugee camp after losing their home. Here’s his story.
Followed by War
Edouard “Eddy” Iranzi was born into war. In 1996, fighting had escalated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Unrest grew in the Katanga province as rebels captured territory from the militaristic government, and his parents knew they had to act soon. They fled to the Kivu province while Eddy was just a few months old.
In the high tropical mountains of the Minembwe territory was a large village lined with small houses. Here, people made a living through cultivating the land and raising cattle. Eddy’s dad was a farmer with cows of his own. After the chaos in Katanga, the village felt like a place where they could catch their breath.
But when Eddy was old enough to understand what was going on, he realized that they hadn’t escaped the war. There was constant fighting between the tribes in his village.
“They all speak different languages, lots of different dialects. They hate each other because they don’t understand each other. There was so much fighting that every clan had its own defense group,” he said.
A Village Destroyed
His own tribe, the Banyamulenge, suffered some of the most discrimination. His family kept their heads down so they wouldn’t be targeted. Then, everything he knew was disrupted by government violence. It was the worst day of his life.
“They burned my house. They took my cows. We fled . . they burned it all until there was no one left in my community,” he continued.
The fires displaced nearly 15,000 people that day. As his family hid in the jungle watching flames consume the village, 11-year-old Eddy realized they would have to leave again.
This time, they fled to a refugee camp in Burundi. Safety never felt so out of reach.
“We said, ‘we have to leave this country.’ But leaving your own land, your home, it’s a big challenge. And then to be in a refugee camp and not have needs or wants, it’s really hard,” Eddy said.
The family was in the camp for over 10 years, always prepared to pack up and leave at any second. Food was scarce, and police would stop and interrogate anyone coming or going.
His dad became sick and there was no treatment in Burundi. In 2015, a case opened to treat his father in the U.S. Now, Eddy had a new fear. He didn’t want to lose his father.
Free from Persecution
It took four years to process their case. In 2019, they boarded the plane that would take them to their new home. When Eddy saw the smiling faces waiting for him at the airport, he didn’t feel unsafe or threatened. All he felt was love.
“Love from the church, love from World Relief, from the family that was living here. Big love,” he said.
He found answers to his fears in every place he looked. In the refugee camp, Eddy could hardly imagine what it would be like to live comfortably. Now they had a house of their own, a fridge that was always full, and enough clothes to wear. And with enough medical assistance, his dad was soon healthy enough to start a full-time job at Tyson.
Eddy felt safer with each night he spent in his new home. He’d always lived in communities ruled by violence and hatred. However, his new community didn’t just accept him, they celebrated him. The new support system changed his family’s lives.
Full of Love
“There’s no discrimination like in Africa. I felt the change in my lifestyle by love. I can sleep and not be scared something will happen tonight, and I feel safe. No one can touch me because there are rules,” Eddy said.
He was free to drive for miles or eat a lot of food. It also meant that he could follow his calling to help others. Back in the camp, he volunteered as a teacher. He taught others about hygiene, how to be healthy, and how to stay safe. He said casework at World Relief is “kind of the same thing.”
Eddy loves working with refugees because they’re from the same background. And in helping others, he feels himself growing. Above all, he wants to share that overwhelming feeling of love. Now that he’s safe, his future is bright.
“This country has lots of love. When you’re safe and free, your mind spreads. You can achieve a lot of things, and you can feel yourself everywhere . . . in all corners,” he concluded.
Erica Parrigin manages communications at World Relief Quad Cities. She graduated from Western Illinois University with a BA in English in 2020. She believes that stories are powerful, and that learning to empathize with other perspectives is the key to making a difference.