Esther Chou via Crowdrise
January 30, 2012
More than two years ago, Bertin left the refugee camp where we worked together and repatriated back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. After long periods of little to no contact, Bertin called me during my most recent trip to South Africa this past July 2011 while I was working with TSiBA and Northeastern University students on the Field Study Program.
Our short phone call left me bewildered as I thought of his story from the beginning— my friend had lost his family during the second Congolese war where he witnessed his mother and sister’s rape, as well as his father’s death. At age 23, he fled to a refugee camp in Zambia where he had little to no rights; stateless and without citizenship, Bertin never lost hope as he continued to improve his life in the camp by becoming a Messenger of Peace, enrolling in certificate programs and getting a technical job with one of the only non-profit organizations that was hiring.
After eight years of living as a refugee, when he finally returned to the country he loved so much, Bertin found his family and friends long gone and his country reeling from the aftermath of a devastating war. In North Kivu, Bertin eeked out a living selling airtime cards on the street where after a full days work, he counted pennies in profit for each card he sold. He rented a room at $5 a month and found this difficult to pay. Even life in the refugee camp was infinitely better than this, he said.
When he found work at a mining company in the forests of Walikale, a dangerous mining site responsible for the majority of the country’s tin exports, he thought himself lucky. Last year, when the mine was seriously attacked by a Hutu power group called the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), Bertin was assaulted and witnessed women being mass raped and mutilated. As a Rwandan Tutsi living in a war torn country where an estimated 5.4 million people have died, Bertin wondered every day why he survived.
When Bertin called me, he had been homeless, imprisoned, orphaned, humiliated, shunned, ex-patriated but still resilient. By then, he was headed to a refugee camp in Uganda. Bertin called me to ask for the equivalent of $40 to go to another conflict ridden country where he knew no one. In that moment, I thought of my great friend and mentor, Professor Dennis Shaughnessy, who taught me two very important life lessons—first, that “every life has equal value” and that second, “while we can’t change the world for everyone, we can change the world for one person”. I told Bertin about TSiBA and we were both hopeful; a few days later, Bertin was on his way to Cape Town.
According to my rough calculations, Bertin has traveled over 9,550 km or more than 5,900 miles since he left the DRC, spanning a distance over seven countries in the great continent of Africa. This is almost double a cross-country hike across the United States of America. From August through September of 2011, along his journey he was denied entry in Malawi, jailed in Mozambique, tossed in a refugee camp in Zimbabwe but eventually crossed the border into South Africa. In Johannesburg, Bertin was greeted with kindness from friends Cebisa and Sarah. There, he was housed and registered with UNHCR and other agencies. In late September, Bertin managed to get to Cape Town where he spent his first few weeks living at a homeless shelter in Elsies River.
The purpose of this Crowd Rise page is first, to chronicle Bertin’s tremendous journey in hopes that you can understand the strength of his character and second, to raise funds towards financing his educational goals.
Bertin has survived so much, in fact, he has endured more than some of us can stand in a lifetime. Often, I lay awake at night and think of Bertin’s story. It is incomprehensible that this is his reality, and yet it is… for him and millions of others who are still in Congo.
I know why Bertin survived—it’s because he kept putting one foot forward, even when it didn’t seem possible to continue. It’s because more than anything, I believe that Bertin has an innate desire to see the good in humanity, to improve the lives of others before his own in spite of all that he has endured. With this resilience and determination, Bertin can succeed anywhere.
This is where YOU come in. Bertin has recently been accepted to TSiBA!
TSiBA is a wonderful school where he’ll be able pursue a business degree for (almost) free. TSiBA currently provides students (even international students) with free tuition, a bursary for books and a subsidized meal program. I have personally met inspiring TSiBA alumni/graduates who now work in the private sector for reputable companies all over the world.
We're raising money to cover Bertin's rent ($100 per month) and basic necessities such as food, stationary and transportation, budgeted at approximately $5 per day. Our goal is to raise $13,200 (roughly $3,300 a year or $9 a day) to cover Bertin’s living expenses while in school for the next four years.
Join us, because we believe that an investment in Bertin’s education will yield remarkable, insurmountable returns and we hope that you will help us reach his educational goals.