My Name is Sylvain Ruhamya and I am a Refugee


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June 20, 2014

Being a refugee is full of obstacles but I prefer looking at is as an opportunity.

My name is Sylvain Ruhamya, I am a Congolese, 32 years old, single refugee. One of my elder brothers was kidnapped in 2001 and my father was assassinated in 2004 due to discrimination and my family's involvement in human rights activism. I was a victim of torture in 2006 and fled from my country to Kenya for my personal security. Right now, my family is scattered here and there and up to now, I have no idea where some of my relatives are. I always think about them and regret.

This is my background, but it is not who I am. 

I am a trained lawyer and I left my country while I was preparing to carry on with my legal career. Arriving to Kenya, I could not pursue my career as a lawyer due to UNHCR and the Kenyan government policies restricting employment for refugees. Not forgetting my severe language barrier, as Congo is a francophone country.

But I was not discouraged. I pursued volunteer work with different organizations. I joined Windle Trust Kenya (WTK) for English language training. I will remain grateful towards them, Later I became an English teacher. I started working as a Security guard with Filmaid International (FAI). That was a lesson for humility. It gave me the opportunity to expand my worldview, I developed curiosity in mass communication. I got the chance to moved from security to evaluation unit, then to outreach unit until I became the outreach coordinator.

Since 2010, I work with Don Bosco Vocational Training Center Kakuma. I am an English teacher. There were a lot of challenges at the beginning given that I was not a trained teacher but now, after having my work experience I am very confident.

IsraAID gave us another perspective. The psychosocial training provided me with a new approach to the learning-teaching process: Learning must be fun! I really enjoy my new lessons using games and various methodologies like images, movement, refreshment and energizers. I cherish that very much.

In the camp refugees come from various backgrounds.  Many of them are affected with post-traumatic issues, others are incapable of accepting the life they live in a foreign country. Being a teacher requires not only knowing English, but also the ability to understand the people and to help them find meaning in life, especially when life is full of challenges. I will always remember IsraAID's  “self care” approach. No one has ever trained us on taking care of ourselves.

I have an advantage being a teacher-refugee. I am the only refugee teacher in my school and I try to share with my Kenyan colleagues what being a refugee actually is.

Being a refugee teacher allows me to be a role model to my students.  I show them there is hope. I show them that it is possible to live positively, even though life in Kakuma is challenging. I believe refugees could have a bright future if they only want. “They took my country but not my future.”

Creating jobs, providing food, shelter and water to the refugees is really needed for survival however, education is the future. I have recently completed my Diploma program in liberal studies with the Jesuit Refugee Service in partnership with Regis University. Going to school gives me hope that I must use my knowledge to make my community and the world a better place to live.  My motto is “What doesn’t kill me strengthens me.” I want to further my education in order to be a professor, teach others, and to be the one, sometime soon, who creates opportunities for others. I have a long way to go but with belief I shall get there one day!