By Georges Budagu Makoko

Recently, I have been reflecting on all the changes I have encountered in my life, the tough experiences that I have endured, and how I was able to survive so many atrocities. I believe I would not have survived without a positive attitude and the feeling of hope that never left me. Hope is the engine of our lives, and the stronghold that protects us in the most devastating storms. We need hope that better days ahead will come, to make it through the current challenges of our lives.

In 1986, I moved from my tiny village in DR Congo to the big city of Uvira, about 60 miles away. I made the trip on foot. During my high school studies, I lived in Uvira in a very hostile environment because of my heritage. I was targeted, along with my fellow Banyamulenge students, and subjected to bullying and persecution. Things grew worse in 1993, when the first democratically elected president of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated in Burundi. That event triggered war in Burundi, and even though we were in DR Congo (back then known as Zaire), the targeting of my tribe increased. In October 1994, right after the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, I had just finished national exams for my high school diploma, and war loomed in DR Congo. I realized that my life was in great danger and I decided to cross the Rwandan border and run for my life. My friends and I crossed the border in the middle of the night. We were greatly afraid because thousands of Interahamwe militia had camped all along the border. We would have been killed if we were apprehended. But we made it.

As I read the news on social media and different media outlets, I see so many stories of people who are currently experiencing tough times. Over 500 asylum seekers – primarily African – are currently living in hotels in Maine waiting for housing. Desperate people try every day to cross into Canada from the U.S. to seek asylum because of our broken immigration system. More people try to get into the U.S. from the southern border, having fled atrocities at home. People of color, including young people, languish in prison at disproportionate rates in the U.S. So many of us are ill with COVID-19, or have died from the virus, both here and abroad. And these are only some of the struggles facing people today.

For the last four years I have not stopped thinking about my tribe, the Banyamulenge in DR Congo, who have been experiencing genocidal efforts against them since 2017, calling for help from the regional and international communities – but to no avail. This continues to retraumatize me, and all other Mainers who are from our tribe. And many other Mainers suffer from their own lived trauma.

Although it is very hard to cope with the stress that comes with the loss of everything, we must find solace in the fact that nothing lasts forever, and hope for better days ahead. I recommend working on having a positive attitude if you are facing any changes or life storms. Anything that can increase hope is what you need to make it through your storm. My prayer is that those in power will do their very best to help the people who desperately need their help the most.