My friend Jerry is a family man who loves his wife and his four children. He genuinely cares for others and demonstrates it by taking in a foster child, providing a home for his younger sister and he works with neighborhood youth in a Christian organization he founded. He has studied Accounting and Information Technology. As with most families, money is tight and he worries about providing for his family. He uses social media much like the rest of us and that is how we met on Facebook. But if you know me, there is adventure, intrigue and a backstory that will keep you hanging on to the edge of your seat.
Jerry is living in exile as a refugee in Uganda. In the blink of an eye, life for Jerry became unimaginable. His determination and perseverance is inspiring. He is my brother in Christ and he has become my friend. This is Jerry’s story.
Jerry was born into a wealthy family in DRC which is the Democratic Republic of Congo, in central Africa. He is the youngest child of his mother Esther who was a nurse, but his father Luke had three wives. The entire family totals thirty. Jerry has 5 brothers, 2 sisters, 13 half-brothers and 10 half-sisters. Jerry’s oldest brother was the first-born son and he managed the family’s successful wholesale business and rental properties.
Family Power Struggles
Two of Jerry’s half-brothers were government soldiers who joined forces with the Congolese rebels to murder all of the sons of Esther (Jerry’s mother) in order to have full control of the father’s properties. Not that the brothers necessarily needed an excuse to murder, but at the time, government officials were killing anyone with the physical attributes of the Tutsi people who were from neighboring Rwanda. It is a long running feud between the two countries. Jerry’s sister-in-law fit the description of a Rwandan being tall, dark skinned with a long nose and that is all it took for these rebels to justify murder. Under cover of darkness, these rebels went house to house looking for Rwandans as well as planning the execution of Jerry and his brothers.
Flee With The Clothes On Your Back
One of Jerry’s brothers was killed that night when he reacted to seeing his mother tortured in front of their eyes. The entire family was subjected to torture, attacks and death threats from 2004-2008. The decision was made to flee. Some of the brothers and sisters had already been killed or kidnapped when nine members of the family fled to include Jerry’s mother and father, one sister, two half-brothers and three half-sisters. The final blow came on a night when the rebels (which included two of Jerry’s half-brothers), found the family in the village where they had escaped. The rebels surrounded the house shooting and then later burned down the house. Everyone scattered and Jerry jumped from a window and fled to a neighbor’s compound with a nephew and a cousin.
Smuggled Out Then Smuggled In
In a harrowing escape, the three of them boarded a boat for a six-hour trip from Bukavu to Goma. From Goma they hitched a ride to meet up with an uncle. Jerry’s uncle learned that Jerry’s mother, sisters and step-sisters had been raped and abducted by the rebels. The whereabouts of the rest of the family was unknown. It was far too risky for Jerry to remain with his uncle. The soldiers had erected roadblocks looking for them.
They found a lorry (large truck) that had delivered goods to DRC and was returning to Uganda. Jerry, his nephew and cousin were given transport to Uganda. The lorry driver put blankets and mattresses on top of them and they bribed the soldiers who were looking for them.
Journey from Bukavu to Goma in DRC to Kampala, Uganda
On September 29, 2008, Jerry arrived in Kampala, Uganda. He was smuggled in by the lorry crew and taken to a Congolese church. Jerry applied for refugee status and after waiting six months, he was finally interviewed and given refugee status. Things move ever so slowly when you are in exile.
What is a Refugee?
While many of us do not even know where Uganda is, we probably have no idea that such a refugee crisis exists. It is certainly not talked about in the media. There are nearly 140 developing countries in the world where this sort of madness is taking place. 68 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide. 25 million are refugees which are people forced to flee their home because of conflict and persecution. For the Congolese people, the rebels are hired by powerful countries who are greedy for the rich natural resources of the Congo. While the cities and countries mentioned may be unfamiliar, the concepts of power, greed and lawlessness are universal. Let this be a lesson to us in America, that the same divisiveness can lead to the sort of civil unrest, crime and murder that is happening around the globe.
Where Is Uganda?
I happen to know Uganda is in Africa only because my dear friends the Williams family serve at the International School in Kampala as Christian missionaries. A number of youth from our church went on mission trips with Justin to Uganda and I was sure I NEVER wanted to have anything to do with it (short of supporting Justin and family in their missions work!)
Justin Williams spoke to our church last year while on leave from Uganda and said “God broke my heart when He introduced me to the refugees. There are millions of people in refugee camps literally dying. All they want is for someone to listen to their story.” As I listened to Justin tell this story, I felt a tug on my heart. All I ever wanted to do is listen to heartfelt stories and then write about them. I surely did not want to go to Uganda, but I did desperately want to listen. God knows our hearts and He orchestrated an introduction.
A Friend Request From Jerry
Jerry reached out to me on Facebook because I am friends with Justin Williams (the Christian missionary) and Justin is friends with Mango Alex (who runs the refugee settlement in Nakivale) and Mango Alex and Jerry are good friends. God uses Facebook. Jerry reached out to me wanting my help to inspire, motivate and encourage the youth of the area to persevere in their dreams and become great future leaders. He wanted me to share their stories and progress as they pursued entrepreneurial solutions to the challenges of their exile. And then nothing happened for a year.
In that year, God was transforming me to become a networker and connector of people. I was promoting a training grant the State of Indiana was offering for computer training when Jerry reached out again. He asked if this training would be available for his people. The reality is, Jerry could be my brother or yours too. He is indeed my brother in Christ. He cares for people especially youth, because after all he was only twenty when life as he knew it tragically upended. He was twenty-four when he fled from his homeland in DRC. He has spent ten long years in exile in Uganda. The majority of refugees are youth under the age of twenty-five.
City Life or Refugee Camp
Jerry chose to live in the city rather than in a refugee camp. There is no government aid for those who live independently in the city. Sixty percent of refugees live in the city as compared to the forty percent who live in a camp. If you live in the rural settlements of the camps, you are given three poles and a tent to build yourself a home. You are provided with food. Per person each month you receive 26 pounds of maize (corn) which costs $7.56 USD, 26 pounds of beans and one quart of cooking oil. If there are children under six years old, they are given flour for porridge. No meat, no vegetables, just corn and beans. Less than a pound a day of corn and beans for three meals a day. People are dying from preventable diseases because there are no resources.
First The Language Barrier
Jerry got busy. He is smart and resourceful. But first he had to learn a new language. He is French speaking and he knows Swahili but the official language of Uganda is English. Jerry learned English. Imagine escaping with just the shirt on your back and being in exile in a country where you could not speak the language. How do you find shelter, food, clothing? Remember he had to wait six months just to be granted asylum and refugee status.
What Will $20 Buy?
I asked Jerry what $20 would buy in Uganda. He said, “We could buy almost nine pounds of meat and my family could eat on that for a week. Rental housing costs from $40 – $150 per month.” Jerry lives in a two-bedroom rental with his wife, four children, his little sister and his foster daughter and his rent is $150 per month.
Education is poor to non-existent in public schools but an excellent education is available in private schools. The cost for each child is $1076 per year which includes uniforms, textbooks and supplies. Private school operates year round with three sessions per year.
While on paper, according to the refugee act of 2006, refugees are allowed to work; but jobs of any kind are in very short supply. Available jobs go first to the Ugandan people. The refugees resort to “hawking” which is selling goods in the streets. It is illegal and therein lies the conundrum, how do you provide food and shelter for your family? There are no jobs. You could be thrown in jail for hawking, but you must do something. Living in exile requires much resourcefulness to survive. Jerry is doing it the right way as a shining example by creating an organization to address the challenges of his people, mostly young people who are in exile. Sustainable solutions are the key.
Half The Refugees Are Under Age 18
With half the world’s refugees being under the age of 18, Jerry formed an organization called OneYouth OneHeart for the purpose of providing support and empowerment to fellow refugees. Jerry and his founding partners focus on encouraging youth to dream and create change in these desperate circumstances. Imagine trying to start a non-profit under these conditions. Providing education to youth often takes a back seat to the daily struggle of finding food and shelter in order to merely survive.
Empowering Refugees For A Solution
OneYouth OneHeart realizes that key solutions are best found by empowering the refugees to create solutions that are best for them and then eventually own and manage what they have designed. It is a most difficult task to find solutions due to the lack of jobs and the practice of “hawking” being illegal. OneYouth OneHeart works to empower youth to create projects which enrich the refugee communities. Refugees created a bakery at one of the schools to sell breakfast foods. The funds raised through the bakery paid for twenty youth to attend school for free. Jerry says, “we teach people how to use the resources around them and even people themselves are resources. We are not looking for a handout, we are looking for opportunities to be self-sustaining.”
Why is the Media Not Covering This?
Why are we not talking about this horrifying condition? Would we help if we were aware? Jerry’s mother is a strong Christian woman who passed along her beliefs to Jerry. The majority of the refugees in Uganda are Christian? God has been with Jerry every step of the way providing miraculously through Divine connections. Jerry truly makes an impression on people from around the globe. In the course of writing the story, I talked to many people who were struck by Jerry’s positive outlook in the face of such bleak circumstances. In the early days of exile, Jerry worked as a night guard for a mission organization flying people in and out of areas where other means of travel are dangerous, exhausting or simply impossible. He studied his textbooks by flashlight while guarding the visitors. He also helped Yale University in a research study on women in the area. His fortitude and belief in God’s provision moved one of the visitors to assist Jerry financially to complete his education. Jerry earned his bachelor’s degree in Information Technology in 2013 as a result of a Divine connection and blessing.
Jerry married his wife Zawadi in 2012. She tells of the horror of being raped by gunmen in her homeland in DRC before fleeing to Uganda as a refugee. Rape is rampant. Jerry and Zawadi took in a foster daughter Tumaini who was conceived when her mother was raped. Tumaini never knew her mother and she lived with an aunt and uncle. Tumaini and her family all became refugees when rebels set fire to their house and tried to kill them. Tumaini became an orphan when her aunt and uncle just never returned from their work on the streets trying to make a living. Jerry took Tumaini into his home in 2016 as she was only eleven and had no other family. Jerry also provides for his little half-sister who reunited with Jerry when she escaped DRC. Jerry and Zawadi have four children of their own. Jerry says, “At times my children make me forget the persecutions we went through during this horrible time. I love my family and they are completely dependent on me to protect and provide for them.”
Dreaming of America
Through the resettlement act from 2015, Congolese people who have been in exile in Uganda for over ten years can be resettled in the United States. Jerry has been waiting for two years just for an interview for the program. He very much wants to bring his family to America. There are 1.4 million refugees currently hosted in Uganda and 25 million throughout the world. Only 102,800 have been resettled according to statistics from the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR.
Bringing Awareness To The World
I have spent months getting to know Jerry. There is an eight-hour time difference between Indiana and Uganda. Jerry’s English is dramatically improving as he types answers to my never-ending supply of questions. I am helping him fine tune a TED talk he is giving to the Global Festival for Sustainable Develop-ment conference May 2019 in Germany. Jerry submitted an application for a scholarship to attend this conference and he was selected from thousands of applicants. Jerry won a similar opportunity to speak before a group in Vancouver, Canada in June 2019 for his work in women’s rights. He was selected from over 6000 applicants for a scholarship to speak at the Women Deliver conference. When you get to know Jerry, you will realize why.
Trusting God For A Miracle
Jerry and I pray big audacious prayers via Facebook Messenger. We are praying that a little storyteller in Indiana can write a compelling story about a refugee in Uganda to get the attention of people who can really do something about the enormity of this crisis. We know that nothing is impossible for God and we also know how overwhelming this situation is where we are nearly powerless to effect change. I have invited Jerry to come to Indiana when he is finally accepted for resettlement in the United States. He will be one of the most aspiring legal immigrants. But in the meantime, can we share the love of Christ to help Jerry? By helping such a compassionate resourceful person like Jerry, we are really helping hundreds more because Jerry organizes and motivates people to find their own solutions. He just needs a little in order to help many. His organization won a sizable grant in 2016 but he needs sustainable donations to keep educating youth and creating solutions. What he needs most is resourceful entrepreneurs who will contract with Jerry to provide virtual “work from home” opportunities that refugees can provide to businesses in the US and around the globe. They are looking for opportunity, not handouts.
Who Do You Know?
Who do you know who is a person of influence? Who do you know who would bless the Congolese people living in exile in Uganda? Are you a person who could send even $20 on a monthly basis to buy food and shelter and education? Could you educate a child for a year with $90 per month? Who do you know who deals in humanitarian grants that we could connect to Jerry? Who can connect me with President Trump so he can read this story and approve Jerry’s relocation? We all can do something to help a brother in need even if he is in exile in Africa.
Work From Home-In Exile
With so many jobs performed with just a computer and internet connection, why couldn’t some resourceful, forward thinking business wiz and cutting edge entrepreneur create jobs that could be performed by those in exile? Jerry’s organization can train refugees to perform specific work to bless all. A refugee would be blessed to earn $500-$800 per month. A refugee family could have a home, food and education for the children. An American business would be blessed to find an immensely affordable workforce and at the same time give hope to a hopeless situation. Are you a savvy business person who sees the opportunity? Will you change history by collaborating with Jerry to help his people?
Short Term Long Term
Would you like to help Jerry in the short term? You can make a simple gift using PayPal. Jerry and I collaborated on the most inexpensive way to send money to Uganda (it is not straightforward.) We are using PayPal and WorldRemit to get the job done. This link will take you there. PayPal.me/GPJStoryteller
In the long term, let’s create some work the refugees can do remotely. A bargain for the US company, a lifesaver for a Congolese refugee living in exile. We can become change agents.
Read the entire African Refugee series at TheStoryTeller.net
Please share this story in any format to as many people as possible and may you be richly blessed.
Polly Riddell writing as G. Polly Jordan is a storyteller connecting people and the stories they tell.
One well-placed word of encouragement can change the trajectory and be the catalyst for a different end to the story.