Get To Know Our Robert
Robert fled from his home country, Burundi, at age 15 on 21 May, 1997. His father had been killed in the genocide in1994, and he was living with his mother and sister. 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 found him, 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 documents, but he gave Robert the money to come to South Africa. So, as a boy of 15, 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 unhygienic conditions. Again, Robert was alone. He slept in the streets.
On Saturday 8 November 1997, a young Mercy House resident asked me for money to take a sick refugee she had met in the street 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 boy 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 eye. What a reward!
In 1998 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 young residents. He did well in matric, but as there was no money for further study, he got a job in a shop and moved out. It was much later, in 2014, that he returned to Mercy House for a very emotional visit, with so many memories flooding back to him, because of his sad and difficult past. He had come, because he wanted to tell me of his life’s dream – to become an engineer. By divine co-incidence, our Comboni Father Jeremias had had someone in Europe 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 degree in Chemical Engineering and managed to get outstanding results. 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 in and raised the money to see him through to the end. This was just the crowning glory! His graduation took place in early 2019. He then did honours, in which course he did so brilliantly, that Unisa offered him a bursary to do a master’s degree, even offering a monthly allowance. In the meantime, he had married a South African woman and had a son who proved to be as bright as his father. This boy, Ravienco, was even made head boy of Observatory East Primary in 2019, and was subsequently accepted at a bursary rate, into the prestigious Holy Family College in Parktown, Johannesburg. The photos below show: Robert with 3 other refugee scholars, on his first day at school in South Africa, and his son, Ravienco, when we enrolled him at Holy Family College in 2020. The third photo shows them with our volunteers, Paige and Emmanuel, who assisted him with his schooling.
Mercy House is so grateful and even proud to have been part of this wonderful story.
“All things are possible for God!”