The future in the eyes of Lema

By Lara Ghaoui, Emergency Programme Officer, World Vision UK

“Revenge is not good. I forget and let go. Things happen in life, just like death and you have to let go.”

Last month I was in the Central African Republic (CAR) with two of my colleagues from the UK, working on a context analysis to evaluate how the situation might change in the next few weeks and what effects it would have on our projects there.

We were there for a scant few days talking with communities and listening to their stories as they shared their views about the current dreadful situation. On our first day out Lema told me his story as the van rocked along the bumpy road travelling back from a field visit.

Lema works in our CAR office managing World Vision’s food assistance programme, run in partnership with the World Food Programme. His story left a powerful mark in my memory.

The conflict in Central African Republic (CAR) has been ongoing since March 2013, following a coup d'état that resulted in unprecedented levels of violence. Bloodshed, brutal violence and impunity are some of the words describing the cruelty of the war that’s followed. CAR is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 185 out of 187 on the UNDP (2014) Human Development Index. It's a country of 4.6 million people, small in its population, but large in its fragility.

‘I didn't even know this country existed’ is a common confession people repetitively made prior to my trip in September. Lost somewhere on the world's map in the heart of Africa, CAR continues to fight for its life. With more than half of its population classified as extremely vulnerable, CAR's struggle is a struggle to live, to exist, and be remembered.

Lema was sitting in the front seat on our way back from the field, visiting one of the areas where our food programme runs. He’s a proud father, and has four daughters aged eight, nine, 11, and 13 years.

Like many of the locals, Lema and his family have been personally affected by the conflict. One day last year armed groups broke into his house and forced him to stay there, trapped for two days. “I was there with my children,” he remembers. “The bandits were outside with their guns. I was locked in.”

Hearing his story, I imagined the guns' readiness to flare at any moment and break the sound of silence inside Lema's house. I imagined his girls trapped within the walls of their own bedroom, grasped by an unimaginable terror.

“I was lucky,” Lema continues. “The bandits were called to join a fight in another place. I took the opportunity to take my children out and run away.”

He paused, and then said the one thing that left me speechless.

“I didn't take anything with me except my diplomas!” Lema explained. “I didn't even take money. Everything perishes, but diplomas are the future. It is what will get me a job.”

He paused. We exchanged a look, mine being one of admiration. An admiration of the value Lema places on life, on the future, and on his children.

While Lema managed to escape that day, I know many others did not. Families and their children continue to be trapped in a circle of violence. They are trapped in a snare, with fear clotted in its sharp edges and death lying on its walls.

But when I came back from CAR, I realised that my heart has created an extra room for this country, its people, and its children. I will always remember that forgotten world, where despite the prevailing despair emanating from war and the dire conditions of poverty and vulnerability that people dwell in every day, the hope for a better life remains a driving force to people like Lema.

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