Keep Smiling Ferdinand Katchunga
I am Congolese, born and bred. I had a good education and worked as a business man, I knew many different trades. When the war broke out in October 1996, the situation in my country deteriorated very quickly. There was violence and killing everywhere, no word for it really other than many massacres. Congo is so rich in natural resources, like cobalt and diamonds and it seems everyone is desperate for them. 5 million people have died in conflict for this pursuit. There was no security for us, killing surrounded us and men would roam the streets with guns, nobody was safe. It was so sad to see the beautiful country we loved ruined in this way by greedy violent people. Political problems killing ordinary people. I needed to protect my family so we fled as quickly as we could to neighbouring Burundi which was peaceful at the time.
We stayed for some time in refugee camps there for 17 years, and life was okay. Not easy but I worked in business again and my children went to school. I was so happy to see them getting an education after everything we had been through, even though life was still very difficult for them. I have two sons and one daughter and the older ones were ready to go to university but then the invitation from the United Nations came to resettle us in Europe. First, we were flown to Romania and we stayed there for a while before reaching England.
In Burundi, I supported my family by finding beautiful hand-carved traditional wooden pieces from villages. Sometimes I would spend days in tiny villages with the artists choosing pieces to bring back and sell. I enjoyed sourcing and selling the antiques, full of history, stories and skill. I have brought some of these to the UK with me but I don’t know where to go to sell them here. I am now 60 years old and we live in Bradford. The first place we moved to was difficult to live in as people could be quite racist and didn’t like black people. I didn’t let it affect me though because I know there are good and bad people everywhere. Eventually we managed to move to a nicer property, which has a garden and more space and we are happy there.
More than anything I want my children to be safe, to feel proud of me and respect me. I already speak French and Swahili but now go to class twice a week to learn English and I really enjoy this. I am learning quickly but finding work is difficult for me as I am 60 and don’t have the British qualifications to do intellectual work and they want younger people for jobs involving physical labour.
But I am grateful for everything. I am a positive person and I stay happy and keep smiling, working hard on strengthening my English and making the most of this life I have been given.