Sometimes you come across people in your life who are survivors. There is no other way to describe them because looking at their trials, you question how they even keep going.
I met Buma last year on a trip to our clinic in Northern Uganda. Buma is 54 years old and is one of our valued staff members in the GRI northern Uganda project. He is a Congolese refugee who fled his home country in 2002 due to inter-tribal war which left thousands of people dead. His family all ran in different directions when fighting broke out near their home one day in 2002. They were separated and have remained that way for 15 years! Since that day 15 years ago, Buma has not known for sure his family's location or if they survived. I couldn't sleep that night as I wondered how I would survive 15 years in a foreign country not knowing if my family was alive or dead. It was heartbreaking.
When he fled to Uganda, Buma was placed in Mvepi Refugee Resettlement Camp. He lived there 10 years before relocating to neighboring Rhino Resettlement Camp due to hostile local people. He has lived in the Odubu area of Rhino Camp for 5 years now where he has barely survived on small scale farming and some tailoring. He was very honest when he said that he is so lonely at times he doesn't think he can go on. He speaks French, and very few people in his refugee camp speak his language. Even most of his coworkers need a translator when they speak with him.
I knew that we had to help Buma locate his family and be reunited with them even if it meant we would lose a great employee.
So in August we sent Buma back to DR Congo. He located his wife who, thankfully, was still alive. She had remarried thinking that Buma had died. He also found out that two of his children were married and that most of his relatives had passed away due to war or sickness, including 2 brothers.
While in DR Congo, Buma sat down with his family and asked them to move with him to northern Uganda so they could all live together. They all agreed that they would like to do that but crossing an international border is not easy. Even with so much unrest and insecurity in DR Congo, they didn't want to leave their home country. So Buma returned to Uganda to his job and GRI, alone.
Buma works as a groundskeeper for GRI. He maintains the clinic compound by slashing the grass and cleaning up trash. He also cleans the clinic buildings after busy days of treating hundreds of patients.
I was personally so excited to get the opportunity to send Buma back to his home country to find his family, but truthfully, I was apprehensive thinking about what he would find out. Would his family be alive or dead? He was gone for almost a month and when he returned he described the trip as bitter sweet. He was so grateful for this opportunity to find them but also so sad to return to Uganda alone. When I encouraged him to return to DR Congo to live near them he said that his life and employment were now in Uganda, so he will remain there. I felt saddened by his answer. I wanted to be able to simply fix his loneliness but there was no simple answer to such a complex issue. He says he feels like he has closure now and hopes to be able to see his family again as he knows now where they are living. He is happy to work with GRI and serve his fellow refugees and those in need in the area.
Sending Buma was simply the right thing to do, even if it didn't make everything perfect again. I am so glad we had the opportunity to reunite him and his family. His story is indeed bittersweet, but most of all we know Buma feels valued and cared for. Honestly, those are not adjectives that refugees typically use to describe themselves.