Caution Graphic Material
Benson's Biography as told to Jeanne – part 1
(edited by George)
I grew up in a village called Bunagana in North Congo (Zaire). I am the first born in a family of two boys and four girls. There were problems involving tribalism and conflicts and in the end the rebels organized themselves and attacked, focusing on some tribes, including ours. Unfortunately, the first fight was in my village and the rebels concentrated on killing civilians and young people rather than army men, so that the country would not have people to defend the tribe in the future. My father was a very good man who did not want to involve himself or his family in such tribalism because he was a pastor or reverend in this village. He was a committed Christian. Every evening he told us Bible stories and loved us as much as my mom did. My father would hide people from other tribes so that they wouldn't be killed, so he was considered a spy and was hated by our tribe and, of course, other tribes that we were not related to. People wanted to kill my father so that he could not help these unfortunate people.
When I was young, I went to school every day, but in 1995 the rebels invaded our school and forced us to be involved in slaughtering and murdering innocent people. People were killed in cold blood. Because I was taught about Christianity by my father, I was one of the students who refused to kill others. In my group very many were drowned in school latrines so that we would fear the rebels. Others were cut apart. Others were hanged in the trees and butchered, while others were cooked and those who resisted were forced to eat them. Young kids were shot during the war and died. They put me in a group that was to serve as an example by burning us alive. We were tied hand and foot while they were killing others. I was able to cut the rope of one of my friends with my teeth. He untied me and I helped him do the same for others. Of more than 80 students, only 40 were freed. The rebels killed more students than I could count. They came to deal with us but we escaped through a window. Only 40 ran, but some were shot as they ran.
From that time, I left school and I thought this was my last chance for schooling. One day I realized that I had to go and find out if my parents were alive or not, because people were dying like insects and even dogs started chasing people for food. Imagine, Mom! There were many land mines and many people lost their legs or lives. Even now in camp we have people who lost legs from mines. But I was with those who escaped. I found my mom and dad, but my brother had disappeared in the forest. We went home together with other villagers, but we spent only one night. Soldiers forced young people to chase the rebels using stones and many my age lost their lives. I was among these people. There were 10 boys and 8 army men in my group, but by morning only 2 army men and 2 boys had survived. The others had died or been burned in their houses. We 4 people buried all the burned people and those who had been shot.
This is just a dose of what happened in the Congo. I have many such stories. I continued to live this life for 2 years, escaping death from 1995 to 1997. It was during the night in the village that my father and mom escaped. I traveled with the two soldiers in the forest and later was separated by bombs and bullets, with everyone escaping on his own. I starved for a long time and ate grass to survive. My clothes were torn and were rags and my eyes were red from sadness. Even now I am affected by what I saw. I shivered under the trees in heavy rainfalls without a cover or blankets. Very many people died in this way. Pregnant women were often the victims. Eventually I decided to go through the forest to Uganda. Here I became a refugee, homeless and neglected by everybody. I carried construction stones for people in order to raise money for food. This is a long story also.
I was brought to the Kyangwali refugee camp by the UN. I returned to primary school because my father had taught us 3 principles to follow in life: education, Christianity and not being involved in adultery. I started learning English, because in the Congo we studied in French and Swahili. I was the third best in the test at the end of primary school and was allowed to start secondary school. One year comprises three terms here in the education system. The first term, while away from school, I worked in the fields for food. During the other 2 terms, I was at school and tried to raise money for books, soap, salt and clothes by working on the weekends. This was very hard and sometimes I had nothing to eat and stayed hungry for 2 to 3 days, drinking only water. I grew thin and weak. Because of this, I had a malaria attack and went to the hospital, but I had no one to care for me. I developed scars from trees and thorns. While sick, I ate roots and squeezed out the water to soften my mouth and throat. I came close to dying not only from malaria, but also from a lack of food and no support or encouraging words. When I remembered my parents, people would see tears on my face. I asked God to let me die instead of suffering and I asked myself if I was even human.
At this time, the UN could no longer pay our teachers and we were told to pay for ourselves. I supported myself while completing the second year, but sometimes I fainted from hunger. After this, I decided to stay home and prepare myself to be a miserable and indigent man. But always I was active in church services and headed many youth groups and sport teams. I started a youth cooperative and was a youth leader in a sub-district of Kyangwali camp. Where I lived I was also elected as a chair person.
This is also a long story, but to make it brief, through sports I was brought to Hoima town to play football. Kitara secondary school called me and offered a scholarship in 2003. I had been out of school for 3 years. At Kitara school life was very hard. Only the school fees was paid, while for other things like uniforms, books, soap, medicine and pocket money I had no help. I joined the school without even a mattress or a bed sheet to lie on. Ugandan students laughed at me when they gave me a wooden bed where I slept without a mattress or any covers. I only had my shirt to cover myself. Due to heavy sports training, poor food and little medical treatment, we fell sick and the other refugees from Kyangwali camp left and went back to the camp. But I told the administration that if I died they should bury me in the school compound rather than sending me back to the camp. Here, even if sick, we had to play football very hard to maintain our scholarships. Sometimes I was injured, but I played because there was no one who could replace me. Yet, at the end of the fourth year I got the highest grade, in spite of hardships and without books. But I always prayed to God for help. I had formed a school choir here and every evening we discussed the Bible. Students and the administration loved me because of my hard work and discipline.
I remember once when a Ugandan student was stricken by malaria. No one would take him to the hospital, so I took him. It was a Sunday morning, but unfortunately this student died in my arms at 1:20 and his body was taken to his village. I stayed a week mourning with his parents and the head teacher expressed his appreciation on a Hoima radio station. In 2005 the ministry stopped providing money for football, so I had to go back to Kyangwali before school was over. There I formed the club for orphans to help each other by doing farm work. Eric, the leader of EDUCATE!, came, and I talked to him. His organization sent money so that I could go back to school for the third term of the last year. But I had missed 2 terms and rejoined school when the others were about to sit for finals. I had not been in class with the others, but I had to use this chance, so I sat for finals. Now, here I am waiting for the results so that I can take another step forward. I hope and trust, even believe, that with God everything is possible. What I wrote will be blessed by God and I will pass.
Now I am very happy to have you as a mom, even if I am still suffering. I spent three years in the forest without having contact with people and, because of things only I saw and experienced, I am always cool and quiet. I could not laugh easily, but now I am training myself. This is only to show you how I came to Uganda and what happened, but I have not told you how I escaped from the rebels and how I married under these conditions. I will have to let you know slowly as we continue to have contact. This is why I want to help people such as orphans, because I know how much they suffer. It is very difficult for people to understand if they haven't suffered like the orphans here. But, if people knew, they would not throw away food when others are dying of hunger. (updated 01-07)