Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Greetings from Cape Town

(please excuse my rambles, incoherence and spelling issues...I don't have a lot of internet time!!)

Many South Africans refer to Cape Town as the mother city, a beautiful haven on the confluence of 2 oceans, and a home to one of the most diverse collections of people anywhere in the world. 3 days here and I am hooked...wonderfully and nervously aware that this place and these people--their stories, their lifestyles, their histories, their suffering, their resilience, will change me forever.

Day 1 at the Projects Abroad Human Rights Office: overwhelmed by an office in transition, with interns leaving for their fall terms at universities all over europe, asia and america, my roommate and I are given our first case. He is refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): 26 years old, arrived in south africa in 2002 fleeing the violent conflict in E. DRC that has claimed 6 million lives including his family with the exception of his brother. He was taken in by a woman who immigrated to Canada, played for a soccer team until they reached a level where only south africans or those foreignors with the necessary documentation (which no one in flight ever imagines themselves being in the situation of needing to bring such papers), and was given work as a security guard for 2 months (the second month of which he was only given half pay). Like so many refugees from other african nations, this man has been a victim of xenophobic threats and attacks, forced to hide in a mosque after vigilantes visited his house and threatened to kill him and his rwandan roommate. He now has nowhere to stay, no job (refugees have a TOUGH time finding work in south africa due to both discrimation and the extremely high level of unemployment). So here is this man, 5 yearse older than myself, sitting across from myself, my roommate and one other intern in a conference room. He has nowhere else to go...sees no future for himself in south africa...and wants to return to E. Congo with the hopes of finding work amongst farmers.

Unknown to him however, war still rages in E. Congo where people are being slaughtered every day. It is not safe there and he cannot go home. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) won't help him...they won't prevent him from returning but also will not be responsible for such a "liability." Thus, his one shred of hope that he has been clinging to for months, the prospect of going home, is crushed. The UN could assist him in reaching W. DRC, but in a country nearly as large as western europe, he does not want to go is not his home.

I wonder, what is this world doing to its young people, to its future generations? I wonder what his life would look like had he not been forced by a history and continuation of domestic and internaitonal violence, greed and corruption, to leave his home? Can any of us back home in the US even imagine the physical, psychological and emotional trauma he has experienced?

He came in today to meet with us about finding shelter, food and work...I asked him how he was doing and he replied, "I am really suffering, really suffering"...we found him a place to stay in a shelter that offers free food, accomodation, and work for those who have no money to pay their way. A social worker is on staff to help him find work, and my colleague and I are committed to finding him more adequate housing, as well as to get him in touch with some of our office's contacts who are willing to hire refugees.

Imagine what it would mean for one life to be changed forever, to be redirected from returning home to a warzone, and to instead, be allowed to on their own terms, to move forward self-sufficiently with their fundamental human rights of LIFE, dignity, adequate shelter, freedom from violence, food, access to health care, employment, etc...preserved.

sometimes it seems that the world is just fucked and that we just need to learn to tolerate this shithole...I'm still wrestling with all of this, but I do know that lives can be transformed through choices and the creation of opportunities, through the commitment to keep fighting...and while global picture is bleak, we must never forget that every human life matters.

may we not participate with our silence, julia

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