Growing up in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bertine Bahige was studying hard to become a doctor. At 13, he had his life figured out. Or so he thought.
Everything changed the day the Mai Mai rebel group stormed into his town in eastern DRC, going door to door to abduct new recruits.
“It was the hardest thing,” Bertine recalls with a broken voice. “Looking in your parents’ eyes and knowing that you’re about to be completely separated from everything you have ever known in your whole life.”
Bertine spent two years in captivity. He was horrified by how children were terrorizing each other. “You had to be ruthless to advance in the ranks,” Bertine recalls. “That is not who I am.” He could not stand the violence and decided to escape. “I knew this could be it, but I had to take my chance,” he says.
“I had been given a chance to live a new life and I wanted to get the best out of it.”
His flight took him thousands of kilometres away, crossing lake Tanganyika on a fisherman’s boat who kindly allowed him to board for free and hiding in the back of a truck full of dry salted fish. For three days, that was all Bertine ate. “It was my first gourmet meal in a long time,” Bertine says with his unbeatable optimism.
Exhausted and about to faint, Bertine collapsed by a tree. When he woke up, around him were people speaking a language he could not understand. He did not even know in what country he was. It turned out to be Mozambique. Bertine spent five years in Maputo refugee camp, managed by the UN Refugee Agency.
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