A Tribute To The Remarkable Determination And Achievement Of Our Robert Kagabo

Robert (second from the right)

Robert fled from his home country, Burundi, at age 15 on 21 May, 1997. His father had been killed in the genocide in 1994, and he was living with his mother. One day in May 1997, he returned from school to find that his Mother and sister had disappeared. He was told that they had been killed in the continuous fighting in the area. Robert wandered around not knowing what to do, but a journalist took pity on him and helped.  They left the war zone on 21st May 1997, and made their way to South Africa. The journalist even paying for his transport.  When they got to Zimbabwe the journalist was held back on account of his documents. He gave Robert the money to come to South Africa alone. So, he arrived in South Africa alone, not knowing anyone, not having a place to stay and not knowing the language! He found a shelter housing 650 refugees in Central Johannesburg, but this was closed down a few months later, in view of the unhygienic conditions. Again, Robert was alone. He slept in the streets.

On Saturday 8 November 1997, a young Mercy House resident asked me for R10.00 to take a sick boy she had met to the hospital. As we had 3 refugee doctors in the house, I told her first to bring him to Mercy House so that they could assess his condition. I met this young boy the following day. He was extremely distressed and would not even look me in the eye. He had no clothing other than the trousers and shirt that he was wearing. Although we had no room, I just could not send such a distressed young man away. So, we took him in, giving him all that he needed by way of clothing, toiletries, bedding, food etc. Soon he was even smiling and could look me in the face. What a reward!

The next year we got Robert into school where he achieved outstanding results. The photo shows him, second from the right, in his uniform on the first day of school, together with 3 other of our young residents. He matriculated, in the year 2000, but at the time, there was no money for further study and he got a job in a shop and moved out. It was 14 years later, in 2014, that he returned to Mercy House for a very emotional visit, so many memories flooding back to him of his sad and difficult past. He had come because he wanted to fulfill his life’s dream to become an engineer. By divine co-incidence our Father Jeremias had had someone in Portugal approach him asking if there would be an engineering student whom his family could support! Two and two made four. He enrolled in 2015 at UNISA, a distance learning university, for a Chemical Engineering (the most difficult) degree. All the way through, studying alone, with no lectures, he managed to get outstanding results in the 80s and 90s for his work. In his 4th year, the sponsor found that he was unable to continue with his financial support, so our great friends in the UK, St Richards parish stepped and raised the money to see him through to the end. This was just the crowning glory! His graduation will take place in early 2019 – and what a monument that will be to his own endurance and perseverance but also to the truth that: “All things are possible for God!” Mercy House is proud to have been part of this wonderful story.