I would never have presumed to truly understand any refugee’s backstory, but I thought I had a pretty good idea of how it goes, in general: something really bad happens in his home community, and he makes the difficult decision to flee to safety in another country. Sad, and often dangerous, but fairly straightforward.
When I was introduced to a 29-year-old father, Fidel, on my second day in the Tanzanian refugee camps, I promptly and sheepishly discarded my assumptions of a simple story. His refugee journey spans three countries, three generations and three dangerous departures.
It began when his parents first escaped from violence in Burundi back in 1972. Both Fidel and his wife, Adella, were born into their refugee status in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the late 1990’s, increased political unrest and decreased support for refugees in the Congo forced Fidel’s parents to flee with him to Tanzania.
Most of his childhood was spent in a Tanzanian refugee camp, before his family was subjected to “voluntary repatriation” to Burundi – their home country, though one Fidel had never been to – when the camps were closed in 2008.
Life was difficult in Burundi. Over the many years of exile, Fidel’s family’s lands had been occupied by others. Fearful of renewed conflict, Fidel explains that his parents decided to settle in a different part of the country where they had no property or connections. As a result, he made the choice to drop out of school and support his family by earning a small income as a fisherman.
Although they’d returned to their home country, they still were not safe. An uptick in violence in 2015 led to a new wave of refugees fleeing Burundi, and Fidel joined them. He settled in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp where he met Adella and married her in 2016.
His childhood home changed three times, but now Fidel has built a stable life with Adella, and they’ve welcomed a baby of their own – their daughter Christina.
Adella’s pregnancy was plagued by multiple bouts of malaria, followed by a difficult and complicated delivery. Now 13-months-old, baby Christina struggles with her health. Although Fidel and Adella bring their daughter to the clinic regularly for check-ups, she suffers from malnutrition and chronic upper respiratory infections — health challenges that are all too common among young children in crowded refugee camps. Anti-malaria medicines and antibiotics have eased many of her symptoms as they arise, but now Christina has also been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Adella and Fidel spend all their time and energy caring for their young daughter.
“I wonder what more I can do,” Fidel shares with us, “I wish I could do more. I ask myself ‘How did I mess up, to have a child who is suffering so much?’”
He wishes he could find work, so he’d have more money to take care of Christina, but it’s difficult because so much of his time is dedicated to caring for her.
Thankfully, there are resources available to this family in the refugee camp – they receive food, clothing, soap and housing. And Medical Teams International is there, assuring that Christina receives regular, loving medical care, supplemental foods – including therapeutic nutrition like packets of Plumpy’nut – to help her recover from malnutrition and medicines to help her fight illness.
Before we left, I asked Fidel if he feels hope for Christina. He looked hard at the ground and then told me yes, he does feel like someday their child will be healthy. He and his wife would go anywhere, he said, to get help for Christina. But he’s thankful that they don’t have to – that the life-saving medical care they need is available to them all day, every day, right near their home, thanks to faithful supporters of Medical Teams International.
You can help refugee fathers like Fidel care for their young children with a gift to support refugee medical clinics today.