Matthew Lester

Portrait of Josué Bakeka

For the first years of my life, I lived in Kamoubi village, an area you can only reach by walking at least 28 kilometres from the nearest road. Each family had several houses or huts made of clay and branches. Because it is so remote, many armed groups stayed in the hills near my village. 

Sometimes the armed groups burned villages, from the first house to the last one. When you see the neighbour’s house burning, you start moving.

One night, they burned our houses. My mom and me, my three brothers and two sisters ran into the bush, to the fields where we worked. I was scared because when they were burning houses, sometimes they were burning people inside.

I helped to rebuild the houses. As young as six years old I knew how to help build houses. It was normal for young boys to work in teams to build a house for people who couldn’t build their own.

My father had left my mother when I was two or three years old. I grew up with my mom, but I always wanted to find my father. Once, when I was nine years old, I walked more than 45 kilometres with a friend to look for him. Even today, I’m discouraged I cannot find him.

If I am walking with a gun, even though you are older than me, I can tell you, ‘Kneel down.’ ”

Sometimes the armed groups tried to recruit boys in my village. They did not make me join, but some of my friends joined. They saw the opportunity to steal chickens or whatever they want. If I am walking with a gun, even though you are older than me, I can tell you, “Kneel down.” My mother wanted to leave because she did not want me to be recruited.

One day women from Minova came to buy peanuts from my area. When the armed group came again to our village, we ran with the women into the bush. They convinced us to come to Minova with them where there was a camp for displaced people.

I remember thinking on the threeday journey to Minova that the armed groups would  burn my house again. I was thinking, I’m going to miss my friends. I don’t have a house;  here will I get one? I didn’t know how my life would be.

For me, the first month in Mubimbi Camp in Minova was good because I met many people from my area, and they welcomed me. One of my friends helped me to cut sticks and to build a house in the first week.

I went to school five kilometres away for a couple of years until I had to stop. Even though an organization was paying school fees, after class I had to go to a job, where I cooked meat. Mom was sick, so I was the one looking for food.

Then ECC (MCC’s Global Family partner Église du Christ au Congo or Church of Christ in Congo) held a meeting in camp to tell children they could register for Ruchunda Primary School. It was very close to camp and ECC would pay the fees. My sister, Naomi, and I went for fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

I became serious about school. My mother, Sifa Bitasimwa, encouraged me too. Every night she bought paraffin for the lamp, so my sister Naomi and I could do our studies. At the end of sixth grade, I had the second highest scores in the class and Naomi was third.

When I finished sixth grade, ECC and MCC did not know if they would continue supporting students for secondary school.

I was disappointed. If I could not go to high school, what else could I do with my life? I thought it is better to join the armed group, M23. Then one day I can join the national army.

My mother cried when I told her, but I was still holding my strong position, when two people from ECC and MCC told us we could go to secondary school.

It was like angels came to me. For me it was a miracle, a wonder.

Naomi was very happy too because our mother said she no longer had to marry the man who had offered a dowry of six goats for her hand in marriage.

Today, my dream is to be a doctor. A doctor is someone who helps much when people are suffering. I have a strong faith that I will complete my studies. When I do, I may help my family with funding or pay for my brother’s education. If possible I will build a house for my mom and go look for my father.

Josué Bakeka, 17, is a resident of Mubimbi Camp, which shelters displaced people from villages in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. His school fees were paid through MCC’s Global Family education program for fourth through seventh grades. He’s in a boarding school now and credits Global Family as helping him at a critical time to continue his education.