For 16 years, former child soldier Oliver Bokondji has dreamed of a better life, first for himself and later for his family; now a group of Salmon Arm residents are working to make it happen.
Refugee Action Partners, including representatives from two Salmon Arm churches, Lakeside Community Church and Grace Church, have partnered with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to help Oliver, wife Exode and their four children resettle in Salmon Arm. Oliver has had asylum seeker status in South Africa since 2003.
Sheldon Carlson says the MCC reached out to local volunteers involved in Refugee Action Partners given their experience in helping to resettle another family in the community.
“After our sponsorship was over, they contacted us to see if we would do a second one because they had this young fellow from the Congo who had married in South Africa who has been asking to come to Canada for a long time,” said Carlson.
While there’s a lot of work ahead, the first step for the volunteer group is securing the necessary funding: $35,500.
“Until we raise 80 per cent of our funding, Mennonite Central can’t even begin the paperwork because they have to have the funding guaranteed before they can contact the family and say we’re going ahead and get them going on that end with checks for health, security, etc.,” said Carlson. “We’re trying to get this funding in place by summer, so we can get Mennonite Central going. And then we’ve still got to wait 18 months.”
In January 2003, at age 15, Oliver, was abducted from his home and forced to into military training as a child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In his early weeks of training, while on assignment with a unit charged with collecting food for the soldiers, Oliver was abducted yet again – this time by sympathizers, who smuggled him out of the region in a wooden container on a commercial goods truck.
Eventually Oliver reached the refugee office in Pretoria, South Africa where he registered and sought asylum. In May 2003, Oliver was recognized as an asylum seeker and has remained as such since.
Oliver met and married his wife, Exode in 2010, and they have four children: five-year old son, Bomoyi, three-year old daughter, Princess, two-year old daughter, Amba, and an infant.
“Oliver and family continue to struggle as refugees do in countries of asylum, with limited status and opportunities, unable to return to his country or find an enduring solution to his displacement in South Africa,” says the MCC.
Carlson acknowledges the path ahead will require much work, but the rewards for all involved make it worth the effort.
“These families that come, so much they’re interested in their children,” said Carlson. “Mom and dad sort of miss the homeland… and their relationships and all of that, but they do it for their children it seems.”
Anyone interested in helping or providing financial assistance can do so by calling 250-517-7249, or on the MCC website under Refugee Action Partners.