One Refugee’s Life Experience | Come Nzibarega | TEDxCoeurdalene


Translator: Dan Meyer
Reviewer: Riaki Poništ I was born and raised in Burundi,
a small country in East-Central of Africa. My country is known by a civil war that has been going on
for years and years. So many people have died. So many people have left the country
and became refugees in other countries. So many women have been raped
and so many kids have become orphans. In 2005, the United Nations deployed
a UN peacekeeping mission to come and help us to find peace because there was a group
of rebels during that time that was attacking the government, and they wanted to take over. So the United Nations came to my country to help us to find peace
and to protect the local community. In my country, we have
two main ethnic groups: Hutu and Tutsi. Those rebels, they were coming
from the Hutu tribe. Those UN peacekeepers were coming
from English-speaking countries, and my country uses French
as an official language. So they needed somebody to help them
communicate with the local community. I speak five languages
and I applied to be a translator. That’s how I landed a job
working in the UN. Working in the UN was a big deal for me, and for everybody in my country
because you are well paid, you drive a nice car. It was amazing. When I was working at the UN,
I was staying at the UN base with the UN peacekeepers. Life was great. It felt like living in another country
in your own country because the food was good, I was speaking English all the time. It was amazing. I worked in the UN for nine months. Then I went on leave to be with my family for vacation. Like I said I’m a runner, and one day, I was coming
from a running workout. It was in the evening. When I reached my family’s house gate, I saw a group of people
who were standing by our house and I thought that they were just people
from the neighborhood, who were just hanging out. As I reached them, they jumped on me
and they grabbed me, and they started telling me
that I was their enemy. I asked them, “Why?” They told me that
because I was working in the UN, I was helping the UN
peacekeepers to destroy them and they were not happy with that. That day, I was kidnapped, and I was taken to the jungle
where those rebels were staying. My life went in the darkness. Being in that place was horrible. I was tortured. Imagine being beaten every morning
without clothes on your body. Imagine having your foot tendons cut
so you cannot run away. Imagine staying in a small room
without windows where you cannot see the sunlight, and relieving yourself
in a small pot that they put there. The room was stinking so bad. They were telling me that
what was next was to kill me. I stayed in that place for seven days until one day, the UN peacekeepers
and the soldiers of my country came and they invaded the place. I can remember it was early
in the morning. I heard a big noise
over the place like a thunder, and everyone was running away. The whole place was covered in smoke, and I managed to drag myself
from that place. I was found by the UN peacekeepers
lying on the road which was nearby, and they were able to recognize me. During that time they asked me
if they could take me back home, and I said no. Because I felt that by going back home,
I was not going to be safe, and at the same time,
I was going to put my family in danger. I told them that I have an uncle, who was living in the north
of the country. They took me there. But, like I said,
my country is very small. After a few days we heard
some neighbors who came to tell us that strangers were coming
around my uncle’s house and asking if I was hiding there. Those were some of those rebels
who were tracking me down because they didn’t want me
to reveal the secrets of what they were planning to do
when I was in that place. My family sat down, and the only solution they came up with was to leave the country and go
somewhere else and ask for asylum. Ladies and gentlemen,
leaving your own country is not easy. It is heartbreaking leaving your family,
the culture, the food, the friends, things you know, and deciding to go
in a country where nobody knows you. And even in a place where
you don’t speak their language. It was hard. I ended up going to Ethiopia,
where I lived as a refugee for six years in the refugee camp. Life in the refugee camp
was very hard, tough. First of all, we didn’t have
enough food to eat because the aid that the UNHCR, which is the UN agency helping refugees
around the world, was not enough. All those six years, I was starving. I still remember, every evening,
small kids crying because their parents didn’t have food
for dinner before they went to sleep. It was a hard time
for parents who had kids. Second, many countries don’t provide
work permit for refugees, so I spent all those six
years without a job. It was boring to live
in that kind of situation. As a young person,
I could not see my future. In the refugee camps, you find people
who were doctors, teachers, businessmen, successful people
who are there doing nothing. I lived that kind of life for six years until one day, a friend of mine,
who was from Congo, he was a refugee also,
and right now he’s in Boise, he came to me, and he told me that he saw my name on the list
of the people that US was going to take. I looked in his face and I said, “Hey, you joke a lot,
but that is not something to joke about.” Because what he was trying to tell me
was too good to be true. And he said, “Yes, I saw your name on the list
of people that the US is going to take. Go and check it out tomorrow,” because when he told me that,
it was in the evening. The next morning,
I ran to the UNHCR office, which was two miles away
from the refugee camp. As a runner, I ran so fast, maybe I broke the world record
on that distance. (Laughter) When I reached there, I saw the list of those people
the US had chosen to come over here. But again, I read my names ten times
to make sure that the spelling was right. And yes, it was my name. I jumped and I say, “Yes! I’m going to US,
the great country on planet earth, the country I used to see in the movies.” I could not believe it. After that, I was scheduled
for interviews. I went through six of them, some of them with the FBI, USCIS I went through medical check-ups
because they have to make sure that you won’t have diseases which are not allowed
to come in the country. The whole process for me
took a year to travel here because when you are chosen to come,
you don’t travel the next day. There’s a long process
that you have to go through, and some refugees,
they don’t pass that process. I came here in the United States
in 2012, August 29th. I will never forget that day. It was a memorable day for me. It was like being born again
and become a small baby, because I could see my life changing overnight, within 24 hours. I remember being at
the International Airport for Ethiopia getting ready to fly to the US. When I put my first foot on the plane, I felt like one part of me
was already in the US and the other part was still in Africa. I felt a huge burden falling off of me. It was an amazing moment. But at the same time,
tears came on my face, remembering those thousands
of people, I was leaving in that place without help, without food,
without anything. All the way coming to the US,
I was crying tears of joy, because I could now see
how someone’s life can change overnight. It was amazing. I first landed in LA, Los Angeles,
and the airport was so huge. I was amazed, overwhelmed, I was like,
“I’ve never seen this before.” It was cool. Then the same day, I flew to Spokane. When I reached the Spokane Airport, I was received by a case worker
from World Relief. And when I showed up, he screamed. He said, “Welcome to Spokane, come!
We are so glad you are here!” I was so happy to see someone
who I’ve never seen before calling my name It was so cool. And then he hugged me, then we drove to my apartment
that was prepared for me. The next day, I went to the World Relief
office for paperwork, and when I was in the lobby, the director came to me, and he said, “Come, welcome to Spokane.” He shook my hand, and he said, “We’ve been praying for you, and you will be successful
in this nation.” To tell you the truth,
those wonderful words changed my life. Why? Because during all those six years, nobody came and told me
that I was going to be successful. What I knew: I was useless, a refugee, a kind of ‘no-future’ person. It is funny how things that we go through
can give us a new identity. From that day, my mind changed. I told myself, “I am successful.” I took those words as a foundation
of my life here in the US. Within a month, I was hired
as an overnight stocker at Walmart, working a graveyard
from 10pm through 7am. It was hard. I’ve never worked at night before. My body was tired all the time,
telling me, “No you cannot do it, you’ve never done that before. Go sleep.” (Laughter) But I decided to work
very hard to be successful, and at the same time to give back
to this nation that has given me much. I worked there for a year. Working at Walmart was a huge experience. To be honest, back home,
we don’t have Walmart stores, and working at Walmart
was like a notion, big, huge. I had to learn the names of food because I was working
the grocery department. It was amazing to see how many
kinds of food this country has. (Laughter) I even saw a section where
they sell food for animals and I was like, “That’s good.
I will never starve again. Even animals have enough to eat.” (Laughter) I had to learn names
of those different items and know where they go
because sometimes, you can pick two different packets,
but they look alike, but when you look carefully, one says “Sugar Free,” and that means
this goes here and this goes over here. It was amazing. After a few months,
I was able to help customers when they come in
and ask me where things are. And I was very proud to tell them,
“Yeah, I know where that thing is.” That was really cool. After a year I was hired
by World Relief to be a case worker to help other refugees
to find jobs here in the US. It’s been a huge experience to help refugees coming
from all over the world. I feel like my hands
are touching the whole globe, because I have helped so many refugees
coming from different countries. Those refugees when they come over here, they come here with a recipe
of different ideas and different experiences. One thing I have learned
through my life as a refugee is this one: Refugee camps are the richest
places in the world. Why? Because there you find books
that will never be written, songs that will never be sung, dreams and ideas that will never get
an opportunity to become the reality. There you find the potential
trapped in those people who have no chance to do something. Refugee camps are the richest
places in the world, more than the gold mine in South Africa
or the diamond mine in Congo or the oil in the Middle East. Why? Because each and every one
among us is created with a potential, something special to offer here on Earth. Nobody here is an accident,
including those refugees. What if we stretch our hands and open our doors
and receive those refugees and give them a chance
to release their potential? Because I believe
the world is waiting patiently, for the manifestation of that potential
trapped in those refugees. I believe some of the problems
that the world faces right now the solution is found in those refugees
who don’t have the opportunity to do something to pursue
their purpose they were created for. I believe trapped in the refugee camp
is the second Steve Jobs. I believe trapped in the refugee camp
is the second Bill Gates. I believe trapped in the refugee camp
is the second Albert Einstein. By the way, he was a refugee. What if we create some businesses
in those refugee camps, build schools, and transform those refugee camps into cities where other people
envy to go and live. What if we saw the refugee crisis
going on right now as an opportunity, not as a problem? I thank this country for giving me this chance
to come and live over here. My life has changed. What if we gave that same
opportunity to other people? I know some of us were afraid of refugees. Recently I read a comment of somebody
that he made on the refugee crisis. He said, “A refugee is not dangerous.” And he went on and he said, “The dangerous person is the one
who made that person a refugee.” So, I am a refugee,
but I’m not a dangerous person. The one who is dangerous
is the one who made me a refugee. I’m a victim of what
those bad guys did to me. Right now, I ask and I challenge everyone to think about it because, in the future, our kids and our grandkids
will ask us what we did in the face of this refugee crisis
going on right now. What is going to be our answer? I’m so thankful. May US continue to be the great
beacon for hope for the hopeless, and home for the homeless,
and the rest for the weary. As God is our hope and strength, so are we empowered to give
the same to those who seek it? Thank you. (Applause)

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