A tribute to Alain Munyangabe - Refugee Council
February 23, 2011

A tribute to Alain Munyangabe

The following tribute was delivered by Jonathan Ellis on behalf of the Refugee Council with input from staff from the development and Basis teams on the day of the funeral of our colleague, Alain Munyangabe, on Friday 18th February 2011.

Alain was a well respected and much loved member of staff at the Refugee Council. We were simply devastated by the news of his death and this devastation spread far and wide as his work together with his humanitarian and compassionate approach had touched so many charities and refugee community organisations. He had touched so many people and this fact was so graphically demonstrated by the emails, ‘phone calls and blog postings that we have been receiving since Christmas.

Alain joined us working on the Voluntary Sector Refugee Network- East of England in 2006. It was a great role for him building on his experience at the Welsh Refugee Council. He always struck me as having such passion and belief in what he was doing and such a well grounded view of the support that he believed refugee community organisations needed in order to be able to thrive and support their communities.

He had to cover a wide area of the country but built lasting links with people across the region and his regular communications to the network were always appreciated. For us at the Refugee Council it was marvellous to have someone like Alain developing this network.

Alain then moved on from supporting this network to our Basis project as the training and development officer. We were so delighted that he got this job. He just was the best candidate! And I think he was pleased too – it was a chance at a national level to put into place his thoughts about support to RCOs.

One of my colleagues told me that Alain was someone who treated his work and colleagues as one big amalgamated family. He always expressed to him how a united front and camaraderie within the Basis project meant so much to him. His unequivocal desire and passion to work unselfishly with everyone for the better good of the RCOs is something that we will always cherish and now that he has left us, he has given me us a renewed passion to carry forward his enthusiasm and vision for a stronger refugee sector. He was also incredibly humble about the contribution he could make to the team.

He played such a pivotal role in our successful national Basis conference last year. He wanted to make it a genuinely RCO-centred day – bringing his culture and other non-British cultural values to shape the day. It resulted in a genuinely warm and original day – that oozed passion and community
He also developed regional seminars around the country last year- bringing energy, enthusiasm and a warm welcome as well as logistical support to help events run smoothly, and facilitating workshop sessions. I know this was something he was particularly proud of, and that was much appreciated by other team members and RCOs.

When I first met Alain I was struck by his passion and his commitment – but what I loved about listening to him was the way that his words seemed to sink into you and grow, and then minutes after he had said something the significance of those words really began to kick in. I remember that first day and, despite the time pressures on our schedule, he insisted that we made time for lunch. He took me to a pub and I had the first experience of many of listening to Alain’s words and the insight of his words touching me some time later when I had been able to digest them. He had a great insight which was conveyed so freshly and distinctively.

And he had such a lovely turn of phrase – I remember walking through his office one day and he just suddenly said that he thought that I should summon him to my office for a discussion. His words just made me smile and of course I had to summon him to my office. It became a regular point of contact between us and for me to ask him whether he needed to be summoned to my office.

He counselled those around him with an incredible wisdom – he understood where people were coming from and always sought to bring justice and peace to discords. He worried terribly when life didn’t flow in this way – he was such a genuinely sensitive man.

He was very proud of getting his Masters – I think he referred to graduating as one of the proudest days of his life. And his lecturer told us that he had been an outstanding student.

Alain had the ability to always make people smile and laugh despite the personal challenges he himself was facing.

Another colleague told me of the support he had given to one of his friends and that the tone was always so funny and his urgency to help his lonely friend was always felt in his voice tone and attitude while talking on the phone.

Alongside Alain’s commitment to refugee issues, I don’t think we should forget his commitment to football! He told us that he grew up listening to radio commentaries in French but, of course, his passion in recent years was Arsenal. He took the game very seriously – ‘Please don’t try to speak to me during the match,’ he told one of my colleagues when they watched an Arsenal game on TV. ‘I won’t reply.’ Another colleague watched him watching Arsenal. He could not be disturbed, and sat there literally taking kicks for his side from his stool – as if in a dream – so absorbed it looked like he felt he was playing himself. But he was also unfailingly optimistic and was always convinced that, in the end, Arsenal would come out on top. I know that many of our staff think of him now every time they see them play. And of course what beautiful timing for Arsenal to achieve a historic victory over Barcelona in this the week of his funeral – so fitting.

But what was truly remarkable about Alain was how he was able to touch so many people’s lives. When you think about what is the point of us being here as a human – how can we answer? One answer must be to try to touch and help our fellow people. And Alain did just that. He touched me and he touched us all at the Refugee Council. I massively valued our relationship and his insight. But what became so clear to me in the weeks after his death were the number, the range and diversity of people whom he had also touched. He has left the most powerful legacy – people touched by his presence and his soul. He has left us all far too early but despite the pain of his early departure, his time with us has left such an enduring legacy. Our thoughts go out especially to his son and wife.

Alain – from all of us at the Refugee Council and our partners – we thank you for everything, we miss you hugely and we will never forget you.

Jonathan Ellis is Executive Director – Advocacy and Influencing at the Refugee Council

Read more tributes to Alain