Article by Jerome Bizimana, World Relief Staff Member
Our feature this month is the firsthand account of life as a refugee from World Relief staff member, Jerome Bizimana. Read about his struggle to escape hate and violence in what felt at times like a hopeless quest for peace.
It was 1996 and the war had just broken out. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had always been my home, but it was a brutal, bloody war, and it was too dangerous to stay in the country, so my family and I fled. For the next nineteen years we lived in one Tanzanian refugee camp after another. When one camp closed, we packed up and moved to another. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a life away from the war.
One night in 2012, I was attacked by criminals at my home. Luckily, nearby police officers were able to save me from harm, but my assailants escaped. Before fleeing, they told me that they would kill me. They told me that they had to “terminate my life,” but never gave a reason why. My heart was broken, and from that day forward, I lived in constant fear. I couldn’t sleep, and many nights I would go to bed wondering if I would wake safely in the morning.
My eyes are wet with tears as I write this. I do not usually talk about my past. I prefer to forget the thirty-one years of my life that I lived hopelessly, but I hope that sharing my story will help others by bringing awareness to the need for refugee resettlement support.
Had it not been for the support systems in place, my family and I never would have been given the opportunity to resettle in the United States as refugees. But thanks to United Nations refugee services, we were given that chance in 2015, which is the year we arrived in the U.S.
But relocation was only the first step.
Life in the U.S. was more difficult than I expected it would be prior to my arrival. My family and I had lived a rural life in Africa. This means that we had never rented a house, paid a monthly bill, or applied for health insurance. I was so confused. If wondered if I was destined to be homeless. I wondered how I would survive. During sleep, I dreamed of someone breaking into our new apartment and killing us. The trauma from my 2012 attack was apparently still causing me great anxiety and pain, which was now amplified in this new place.
And the culture was so new, too. During the week leading up to my first Fourth of July, I mistook the sounds of fireworks going off at night for bullets. It wasn’t until I was able to speak with my case worker the following morning and hear her explanation, that I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
With the help of the great staff at World Relief’s Aurora office, my family and I slowly built a new life here. At first, we survived on less than twenty dollars a week. But thanks to the case managers and employment counselors at World Relief, my family and I continued to work and learn and acquire new skills.
After a while, I started to think about ways that I could give back. I felt so fortunate, and I wanted to help others. In the beginning, I provided transportation for new refugees who needed a way to get to their appointments with World Relief, but I wanted to do even more, and so I kept this request in my every day prayers.
Then one day, I was informed of a job opening at World Relief.
“But with my broken English, do you think I will get this position?” I asked.
I was encouraged to try, and to leave the rest to God. So I prayed, and then I applied for the job.
A few weeks later, I was offered the position. I am now a Family Support Coordinator at the World Relief office in Aurora.
I love working at World Relief, because World Relief changes lives. When I do my job, I am helping God’s children. When my service brings a smile to their face, I am happy.
Back in Africa, I lived a life without goals. But now I have many goals. I have hope and dreams and plans for the future! I go to bed every night feeling safe, and I wake up in the morning without fear.
I never thought I would be living the life I live now. But with the support of World Relief, my life has changed. I believe their services are crucial for building a new, prosperous life here in the U.S. Even a one-dollar donation to World Relief means a lot. That dollar will save the lives of countless families in need.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if World Relief had not come to my aid. I still do not know the answer, but I do know that partners of World Relief’s mission empower millions of families like mine. I have nothing to give that can show you how important your love and support is, but I do want to say thank you so much. I keep each and every one of you in my every day prayers.