Refugees in South Africa

Daily we see and hear about the plight of refugees in our world. The following is a glimpse at the life of one such family.

Whilst working in a refugee project in South Africa where refugees were coming, mainly from Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola, I met Esther and James (not their real names). They were arriving at a time in South Africa when the “official” apartheid system had ended. S.A. had its own problems and was and still is xenophobic. 
This family was fleeing the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Esther and James have agreed to share part of their story as follows: 
“In 1994 we were forced to leave our country because of the war. Many people lost their lives including our parents and relatives, we are very grateful to God for being alive today. We left our country and went to DRC Congo where we were living in the refugee camps. Life was unbearable; people were dying every second due to lack of medi-cation and proper sanitation and food. We got married in the camp. 
In 1996 the war started again, and we were forced to run away, the camps were destroyed and a lot of lives were destroyed. We went to Malawi and we were living in another refugee camp called Dzaleka. We were not allowed to do any activity; there was no future for us. 
In 1997, we decided to leave Malawi camp and with help from Jesuit Refugee Services we managed to get a ticket to South Africa. 
When we arrived here in Cape Town, life was more difficult than we thought. There was no place to sleep, no food, and we were advised to go to the ARK shelter in West Lake where we were allowed to stay for six months. After that, James managed to find a job as a car guard, this was a blessing because we were able to leave the shelter and live on our own. We also could manage to pay rent and buy food. That was a temporary solution because we were asking ourselves how long he would do it. In June 2000, my younger sister who was twelve years old was diagnosed with cancer, it was a struggle and later the doctor told us that the chance for her to live was low. She received treatment for a year, but it didn’t help; in May 2001 she passed away. That was a devastating situation, I was very angry with God, because when we thought that we are safe another life was taken. With time we learnt how to live with God’s will, not ours. 
In May 2001, I had a chance to go and volunteer at a shelter where I met Sr Ethna, may God bless her. That was a blessing from God because in February in 2002, we were employed as a couple, James was a caretaker and I was a housemother. James decided to go back to school because we did not see another future. 
When he was doing his third year, and I was pregnant, we were told that our contract was not going to be renewed and we must find alternative accommodation. That was a difficult time for us; we saw the world coming to an end for us. At that time, Sr Ethna was no longer in South Africa We informed her about the situation, and we received support – the Congregation helped from the Solidarity Fund. 
We moved out by the end of August, no one had a job and most of the time we didn’t know where our next meal would come from, we sold anything that could be sold, we were much stressed. In December 2004, I found a job as a housekeeper, and we were very happy about it. In May 2005, I got sick and I was hospitalised. I had an operation and was supposed to rest for at least two weeks and because of that I was fired. In September 2005, I found another job as a housekeeper, very little money but at least we could survive. In December, I got very sick again; had a bowel obstruction and had another operation again; I was very scared because I thought that I would be fired again. Luckily it was in December when people go away for holidays. By the time they came back I was much better. I went back to work in January. In November 2007, James got a job. God’s hands never left us even though sometimes we couldn’t see them. 
In February 2008, I resigned and went to study full time. James could afford to pay my school fees and support the family. This year in April I graduated, and praise God. I am working – I do not get paid a lot but I am very grateful to God because there are so many people who did not get a chance like me. 
We lost our parents but God placed on our ways people to look after us … We are very happy because we are able to do something for ourselves and for the future of our children.” 
Meanwhile the rent on their home kept increasing every year and the couple applied for a bond from the bank to get their own home, which would give them a more secure future. I was approached to help them find funds to take the necessary steps to get a deposit. We gave them some assistance and providentially, a visit from Bernadette Mangan in Birmingham made more help possible. 
In the words of Mary Ireland: “The Ladies Guild of the Parish in Old Oscott Hill, Kingstanding, had sought ways of remembering Sister Winifred who had shared with them some of her concerns about the people of South Africa among whom she had lived and whose struggles she experienced. She had a particular concern for those who were anxious to make a new start and to help themselves but needed some help to make that start.” These women had a Table Quiz and the proceeds were given to this family. Their dream of having a home is being realized. 
Esther and James say that they will always remember this action. “What we can do is ask God to bless you all, to give you long life because this world needs people like you to make it a better place full of hope. May our Heavenly Father be with you all.” 
Ethna, Rowlagh Community


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