Found in Translation

by | Jul 1, 2019

Nduta Refugee Camp, Tanzania—I recently spent time in the Nduta refugee camp, supporting Refugees United Soccer Academy (Academy) activities, delivering coach training, and hosting a movie showing of the Not Just Football documentary. Throughout the week, I was incredibly grateful to be working with a translator named Mandy. Mandy was a participant in the original Academy coach training that Gabriel and Sara-Christine delivered in Tanzania in April 2018, acting as both a translator and participant.

Throughout my time in Nduta, Mandy was my right-hand man, functioning as a patient facilitator, doing his best to accurately translate everything that the Academy coaches wanted to express, and doing it all with positive energy and enthusiasm. Translating is exhausting, especially when your brain is switching between 4 languages (English, Kiswahili, Kirundi, and French), and Mandy did it with a happy heart and smile. The kicker (no pun intended) is that Mandy is not even an Academy coach; he is a Psychosocial Support worker that works on child protection and recreational programming. While he works with the Academy coaches regularly, he was really just doing us a favor. I was so impressed with Mandy that I wanted to get to know him better.

Mandy is currently 28 and his real name is Jackson. ‘Mandy’ is a nickname that his family gave him when he was young and, for some, reason it stuck. He met his wife, Siajale, in 2017 in the Nduta camp; they got married in 2018 and are currently expecting their first child (due in 6 months). However, this is not Mandy’s first time as a refugee. Although he was born in Burundi, Mandy and his family fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire) in 1993 due to civil war; they spent the next 9 years living in a refugee camp there. They eventually returned to Burundi where Mandy excelled at school and eventually enrolled in a university program to study IT.

In 2015, everything changed. Both Mandy’s mother and father were members of a political opposition party, putting them at risk of being targeted by the government regime at the time. When political upheaval began following the 2015 presidential elections, the zone leader where Mandy and his family lived pressured Mandy’s father to enlist both Mandy and his brother in the Imbonerakure youth militias that were wreaking violent havoc throughout the countryside. Although Mandy’s father refused, putting the family at further risk, Mandy attended one of the militia meetings hoping it would assuage the zone leader.

In this meeting, Mandy remembers the group creating a ‘hit-list’ of other young people in the area whose families were part of opposition parties, planning to kill them on certain days and times. After the meeting, Mandy knew he had to do something. In the following days, he reached out to many of the individuals on the list to warn them of their impending fate. This resulted in many of the individuals fleeing the area, but some were caught. Under duress, these individuals named Mandy as the one who tried to help them.

One night, while at home with his family, a group of men came knocking on Mandy’s door. Knowing he was in danger, Mandy escaped quickly out of his bedroom window before anyone saw him and hid in a bush outside. He remembers overhearing his family tell the group that Mandy was not at home and begging for his life to be spared – no mercy was shown. Mandy listened in horror as gunshots rang out, killing both his parents and his four siblings. In shock and panic, he ran into the night not knowing where to go and what to do.

After a week of walking, Mandy reached the Burundi-Tanzania border. He was picked up by authorities and taken to the Nyarugusu refugee camp. There he spiraled into depression and hopelessness; he missed his family intensely, suffered from feelings of guilt and self-blame, and at one point even contemplated committing suicide. He is thankful for critical psychosocial support and counseling services that he found in the camp, which helped him to cope with what he had experienced and eventually begin to heal. He recalls feeling that he had a support system there to help pull him out of times of darkness. After 7 months, Mandy was relocated to the Nduta camp where he secured a job working for Plan International in their child-friendly spaces.

“Working with children brings me joy. It helped me to cope and I am able to support children to deal with their own stress and trauma. I feel proud to support my community and want so much to help children have bright futures.” Mandy told me. Mandy also loves soccer and admires iACT’s Academy program. “I want so much to be an Academy coach because through football (soccer), we can teach children so many things and support them in so many ways. Football (soccer) helps us to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit and being an Academy coach would allow me to continue serving my community.”

Mandy’s dream is to eventually finish university and earn his degree in IT; he feels that IT would continue to challenge his mind and provide innovative opportunities to help the world. He is looking forward to the impending birth of his first child and is excited to raise a happy and healthy family. While he dreams of eventually returning back to Burundi, he is skeptical that sustained peace will ever exist there and prioritizes raising his children in a peaceful place where they never have to experience war, conflict, or violence. For now, Mandy is focused on putting the pain of the past behind him and moving forward in his life.

I cannot express how privileged I am to have gotten to know Mandy and to be considered his friend. This week, he provided more than just translation support; he served as a voice for the Academy coaches and an advocate for his community, wanting his story and theirs to remind the world not to forget about Burundi and refugee communities around the world. Mandy’s resilience, positivity, and inner-peace serve an incredible example of the strength and hope that can be developed in the face of adversity and his efforts to save the lives of others, despite the unbearable risks, exemplify the true meaning of the word humanitarian.

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