Urban teacher gives up life in Congo to start afresh in Angola

Telling the Human Story, 25 January 2012

© UNHCR/G.Dubourthoumieu
People have started returning to Angola under the relaunched voluntary repatriation programme. These people were on the first convoy from Bas-Congo province to northern Angola last November.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, January 25 (UNHCR) Pedro is the kind of urban professional that Angola needs to help build stability and a viable future after years of devastating conflict.

But he was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and has mixed memories of the short time that he stayed in the land of his parents after Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. Recalling his life, Pedro went from the depths of losing his parents as a boy, and having to fend for himself, to the high of graduating from university.

He shared his tears and laughter with this UNHCR writer and also explained his difficult decision to return to Angola with his Congolese wife and his four children. "I want to go back to Angola because I want to participate in the development of my country. I want to help develop my country in the field of education," said Pedro, who teaches Latin and French at a secondary school in Kinshasa.

The whole family has registered to go to Angola under a voluntary repatriation programme that was relaunched late last year by UNHCR and the governments of Angola and the DRC. Some 15,000 people have gone back to date, while an estimated 120,000 returned with or without assistance from 2003-2008.

Pedro was not ready to return earlier, but now says that with peace restored in Angola he wants to complete a journey that has taken him on an at times rocky and unpredictable path. "They want to see their country [too]," the 45-year-old added of his children.

His own journey began in DRC's Bas-Congo province west of Kinshasa, where he was born not long after his parents fled across the border in the mid-1960s. In 1975, when Pedro was eight years old, Angola gained independence from Portugal and his proud mother decided to go back.

"My mother was always telling people that she returned to Angola with her children because she wanted them to know their country," said Pedro, recalling a brief period of plenty and of happiness. That bright memory has stayed with him. But a year later, civil war broke out, and they were on the run again.

"We fled into the forest, but we could not survive there and we had to return to our village. When there were problems in the village, we lived in the forest. We were staying one month in the forest and then one month back in the village. I was scared."

In 1978, his mother realized that their lives were in great danger and they had to make a run for the border. It ended up as an arduous and dangerous month-long journey. "We were hiding in caves. My legs were swollen," said Pedro, who remembered it all like yesterday. And one day they ran into an ambush.

"We were attacked between two hills and some women had to leave their children behind. My mother told me that I should follow her and if she was hit by a bullet, I should follow the people going to Zaire [as the DRC was then known]." But she made it through and they crossed the border a few days later, after surviving on cassava roots scavenged from the abandoned fields they passed.

The warm reception they received from the local people in Bas-Congo, including gifts of clothing, made a lasting impression on Pedro. And he had his first contact with UNHCR, when the family were registered as refugees at the agency's field office in the Bas-Congo town of Kimpese and given food.

It was a very tough childhood, an emotional Pedro reflected, almost breaking down when telling UNHCR about his struggle to survive on his own after the death of his beloved parents when he was just 12 years old. "I lived alone with my little sister and worked in the fields. My older sister was working in a nearby town and one day she came to pick up my sister, but she did not take me. She said that I should stay where I was and continue working in the fields."

The bright and resourceful boy decided to walk to Kimpese and seek help from UNHCR. The journey took two days, but it was the right decision. "UNHCR supported me and helped me to go to school in Lukala. I went to secondary school in Ntuadisi. When I finished secondary school, UNHCR gave me a scholarship and I went to university, where I studied French and Latin."

Pedro graduated from Kinshasa's Université Pédagogique Nationale in 2010 and found a job at Saint Antoine's school. He had a rosy future. But something was missing. Although immensely grateful for the opportunities he received in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he decided that the best way to fulfill his potential, thank UNHCR and help others in need, was to go and build a life in Angola's Uige province, where his mother came from.

"My parents used to tell us about Angola. I do the same with my children," Pedro revealed. "And now they don't stop asking me when we will go to Angola."

By Celine Schmitt in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

Donate to this crisis

Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate
Play video

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.
Uganda: New Camp, New ArrivalsPlay video

Uganda: New Camp, New Arrivals

Recent fighting in eastern Congo has seen thousands of civilians flee to a new camp, Bubukwanga, in neighboring Uganda.
DR Congo: Tears of RapePlay video

DR Congo: Tears of Rape

Eastern DRC remains one of the most dangerous places in Africa, particularly for women.