'I appreciate how lucky I am'

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19 Aug 2015

Every year, the UK resettles around 750 refugees from protracted refugee situations around the world. We welcome families at the airport and spend a year supporting people to settle into their new lives.

Busilana and his family fled conflict in Congo when he was just seven years old. Busilana spent nearly 15 years growing up as a refugee in Rwanda before being resettled in Hull with his family in 2011. This is his story.

I’m originally from the Congo but my family had to leave because of the war. We fled to Rwanda and we became refugees. I don’t really remember much about my life in Congo, nor do I really remember arriving in Rwanda.

In Rwanda, we lived outside of the refugee camps because living inside the camps was dangerous; we’d heard rumours some people there were forced to go into the army.  Life in Rwanda was tough: it was still quite a scary place at that time. We didn’t feel safe.

It was also hard to get food, medicine, clothes and shoes. I had to walk 24 miles a day just to get to school. Unfortunately after I finished primary school my education came to an end. I had dreams of a different life, but I didn’t have any hope.

We’d been refugees for nearly fifteen years before we heard we were going to be resettled in Britain. For me, the prospect of going to England was huge. I knew it was a powerful country but I had never imagined I would go there. I just saw it as a blessing.

I grew up with nothing, in poverty: it was going to be my first time on a plane and I didn’t know what it was going to be like. When we were at the airport and I saw the plane, I thought to myself there was no way it was going to be able to up, it was too big. Even when I was on it I still thought it wouldn’t be able to fly. I thought we’d come down in someone’s garden. When it took off I was a bit scared, but I was amazed. I remember looking down and seeing all of the houses and villages getting smaller and smaller and them disappearing as we left them behind.

We arrived in England in February 2011; I was 21 by then. Everyone said that winter in England hadn’t been too bad, but we’d left behind temperatures of 40 degrees in Rwanda. When I got off the plane it was so cold I couldn’t feel my toes. I thought by the next day I’d be dead.

It took me a while to adjust to the weather. I love to play football, but I couldn’t play outdoors when it was so cold. At the beginning I used to run baths of hot water just so I could stand in them.

Another adjustment for me was the language. When I arrived, I didn’t speak a word of English. The language barrier made it really hard to fit in at the beginning and it was difficult to learn. But now everyone tells me I’ve got a Hull accent.

I was going to a drop in at a local youth club when I heard about the Princes Trust. Through them, I gained some certificates in sports coaching and an apprenticeship with the Tigers Trust.  I’m also an Ambassador for the Princes Trust: I wanted to give back to them – through their work I’ve built my confidence, travelled and met lots of interesting people, including celebrities like Simon Cowell and Emeli Sandé! Being on the red carpet with them at the Princes Trust’s awards ceremony, and having them congratulate me was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

Growing up in Rwanda I had nothing. Some of my friends had no parents because they’d been killed in the Rwandan genocide. There was no one there to help them.  When I reflect on my life I wonder where I would be if I were still living in Rwanda. Maybe I’d be in jail. Maybe I’d be dead. I’m not ashamed of my past or where I’ve come from, but I know I wouldn’t have had a future.

Now I try to keep positive. My experiences in Rwanda really inspired me to help young people. Now, as well as working with the Tigers Trust, I’m a part time youth worker.

Here, I have everything. It’s everything I’d ever dreamt of and I want to work hard. I’ve faced lots of challenges in my life but I don’t want that to affect my future. In England you have every opportunity you can imagine, every advantage to live and achieve your dreams. I’ve even got used to the cold now.

I’m just happy to know I’m able to give something back: I want to be the best man I can be and be an example to other young people. I appreciate how lucky I am.

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