Zimbabwe: The Life of a Refugee, Testament to the Prevailing Human Spirit
02 August 2016

Rose Kabela-Thumba, a refugee volunteer, cosmetology teacher through Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) Vocational Skills Training (VST) Programme, in front of her cosmetology class. Her story is testament to the prevailing human spirit, a spirit that perseveres and prevails in the wake of great tribulation. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
With glassy eyes, staring into the distance and in a voice just barely above a whisper, she tells her story.

Tongogara Refugee Camp, 2 August 2016 – Today, Rose Kabela-Thumba is sharing her expertise with other refugees through Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) Vocational Skills Training (VST) Programme as a refugee volunteer, cosmetology teacher. Her life away from the country of her birth, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), now in Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe is not ideal, however she is now able to make a life for herself and her family.

Rose and her family left brutality and tragedy when they left the DRC in 2010. With glassy eyes, staring into the distance and in a voice just barely above a whisper, she tells her story. Her husband was a goat farmer in the DRC, with over 300 goats as part of his livestock. Amongst those in his employ were nationals from the neighbouring Rwanda.

At the time, Rwandan nationals were being persecuted in the DRC, and to compound Rose and her family’s safety concerns, it was known throughout the community that her mother was Rwandan, whilst her father was Congolese. She was born in the DRC, her nationality is Congolese and she has lived her entire life as a Congolese national; however, to her persecutors she was a child of Rwanda and so she needed to die!

Rose explains that she and her family fled to another part of the DRC, causing them to lose everything she and her husband had worked for, however they thought that they would be safe. Here however, the family’s security was short-lived as rumours begin to spread that she was Rwandan. Despite her assurances that she considered herself Congolese, a group of men entered their home, intent on murder.

These men began to severely beat Rose and her husband, continuously threatening to kill them both; her for being Rwandan, him for having married to her. They said that everyone, including Rose and her husband’s four children needed to remain quiet, as they beat and gang raped her. A scar across her forehead is a tragic reminder of that day. She remembers the knife that was pressed against her forehead and caused her to lose a lot of blood as it cut deep into her forehead. Her second eldest child, a boy of only ten years old, cried as he was forced to watch the vicious assault on his mother. This angered one of the men, who shot and killed the boy in front of his entire family. Rose pauses, as tears well up in her eyes at this horrific memory of how she lost her child so cruelly.

She lost consciousness thereafter, but awoke in a clinic after she and her family were driven into the bush where they were left. In her delirium, she enquired about her deceased son, just to be traumatised yet again, not only by his death, but by the fact that his body had been burnt in the family home.

Rose and her family had to flee once again as they were warned that they were going to be killed and that the clinic would be burnt if they were found there. Rose then explains how she and her husband had to sell the jewellery they had worn, as they had no other possessions or money with which to leave the DRC.

Rose says that when she and her family initially reached Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe, life was very difficult for the family. The family never had enough to eat and she knew that she needed to work to be able to provide for her family.

Whilst spending some time in South Africa, years earlier, Rose studied cosmetology in Pretoria. Today she is able to provide beauty treatments such as pedicures, manicures, massage therapy, facials and hairdressing. These skills prompted her to apply as a refugee volunteer, cosmetology teacher, when JRS called for refugee volunteers two years ago. A large number of women applied for the limited positions as refugee volunteers and Rose was not initially accepted. However, within a year, another opportunity presented itself and a perseverant Rose applied once again.

Today, six years since her arrival in Zimbabwe, Rose has four children once more, as she had given birth to another baby in Zimbabwe. Things are still difficult as a refugee in Zimbabwe, but she earns an income which enables her to provide a little more for her family. She has the dignity of work and takes pride in being able to empower other refugees by imparting them with the knowledge she has.

Her distant, saddened stare however, speaks of the tragedy she experienced and the scar on her forehead will always remind her of that tragic day in the DRC. However, her work as a refugee volunteer brings her closer to having a normal life every day. Her story, like the stories of so many other refugees in Tongogara Refugee Camp is testament to the prevailing human spirit, a spirit that perseveres and prevails in the wake of great tribulation. 

Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
+27 11 618 3404