Tag Archives: Jesuit Refugee Service

2-Refugee Experience: Alvin

Alvin and some friends and I

While at Jesuit Refugee Service in Kampala, I befriended a refugee named Alvin. This is a summary of a thirty minute conversation I had with him. His story is the first peek I had into the troughs of being a refugee.

Alvin is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He and his family became refugees when a militia killed his father and began looking for the rest of his family. They had to flee. He got to JRS because of his mom. She heard about it from a friend and had to choose one of her children to send there. She chose Alvin. The rest of his family remains at a refugee camp in East Uganda. He has to do his best here and learn as much as he can so that he can help his family. His family gets maize and beans once a month and that isn’t enough, but at least it allows them to sleep in peace.

His father was an airplane engineer. Alvin had been to the airport when he was three, and his father showed him the planes there. Ever since then, he’s had the dream to be a pilot. Right now, he is learning hair styling just to get by. It isn’t his passion, but he has to do it so he can help his family. He was going to take the English course JRS offered, but it would take one year to complete which is too long. Also, he was going to take computer classes, but his eyes are bad. Even when he completes the program, he isn’t confident he will find a job. Why would a Ugandan give a stranger a job? He wished to get a sponsorship to the US, so he can become a pilot. He thinks people can become whatever they want there.

He doesn’t think things will get better in the future. He can’t go back to his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo because the militia will kill him. He thinks it is the leaders that are the problem. They enrich themselves and send their kids far away for education. They don’t care about the people. Their actions have created a lost generation, his generation.

He prays a lot to God to help him. That God will help all the refugees.

Out of their comfort zones

There’s a moment in Backpack Journalism that’s a bit of a tipping point, when the students who have been thrown together on this adventure, traveled long distances start emerging from their comfort zones. In two of the journeys, we have fish to thank.

In Backpack Journalism Alaska, Hannah Mullally took up the challenge of learning how to gut a whole salmon, and soon she was teaching others how to use the Yup’ik traditional knife. That salmon tasted so good. After that, students stepped up to take on roles in filming and interviewing, trekking on the tundra, trying new foods and making the most of the experience.

Two women gutting a fish
Hannah Mullally, left, helps Erin Kurvers gut a salmon during Backpack Journalism Alaska  2014 in Bethel, Alaska.


This time, the fish story involved a wonderful Lake Victoria lunch: french fries and whole tilapia, freshly caught and fried. It was Liz Rudigier who led the march out of the comfort zone as she tried the eyeball of one of the fish. (“Gooey and a little crunchy.”) Soon, Natalie Lynam, Jacob Tilstra, Zach Brittain and John O’Keefe had  a go. It’s a good sign.

(I stayed firmly inside my comfort zone on that one.)

We take up the hard work of filming interviews, learning about refugees and the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service on Monday.