Families safe from Congo horror
FOR most of his life Theo has known only fear.
After fleeing from a civil war that destroyed his home, he met his wife in a refugee camp and raised three children under constant threat of attack. He was fearful of strangers, authority and the bullet.
But for Theo and his family, the misery, trauma and anxiety that have plagued their existence has been ended with a life-changing move from Central Africa to Central Queensland.
Thanks to Sanctuary CQ, Theo and 12 members of his extended family now call Rockhampton home, and they are looking forward to a peaceful and productive life free from the sickening violence that makes every day in the Democratic Republic of Congo a living hell.
Smiling broadly as he proudly showed me around the South Rockhampton Queenslander where the family has found peace, Theo said he could barely believe that the nightmare was over.
“Coming here is just a dream. When you live in a war zone you have no stability, but to come to Rockhampton makes all the difference in the world because there are no bullets. People are generous here, helpful.”
Theo described how his wife was deeply traumatised by her experiences. Her mother was brutally slain and the Burundi refugee camp where they met was attacked and burnt down with terrible loss of life.
The war has claimed an estimated three million lives and there is no end in sight despite the presence of the world's largest UN peacekeeping force.
“We know how lucky we are because most of the refugees have no chance to get out. But we have been saved. It is so wonderful,” he said.
Theo's is the fifth family brought to Rockhampton by Sanctuary CQ in the past 2½ years. Its president, Cameron Venables, explains the group is part of the national Sanctuary Refugee Foundation that sponsors refugees and organises their immigration applications.
“Sanctuary provides an interest-free loan for their flights, which they repay when they can. This then rolls over and is available for the next refugee family.”
The group provides housing, helps refugees find jobs and places their children in supportive schools.
Theo is the only member of his family to speak English. The others speak French and Swahili.
“The people of the Eastern Congo have suffered unspeakable horrors and they live with the day-to-day terror of their villages being attacked by militia groups which carry out violent retribution on civilians.
“And yet the families we have been able to help have risen above their experiences due to their resilience, determination to survive and their faith,” said Cameron.
Theo doesn't know what the future will hold, what job he will be able to get, or when his children will be fluent in English.
But he knows he now has a chance to reach his potential. And he is extremely grateful.
“Sanctuary is the best ever organisation. Like Rockhampton, it's just wonderful,” he said.
Sanctuary is a faith-based organisation that relies on public contributions.