Former Refugee Speaks to Students

by Gita Keshava, Grade 11

As students in a wonderful, peaceful country and an outstanding school environment, it is often hard to imagine ourselves in a different place, with different thoughts and concerns. We are busy students: we wake up in the morning, we have music or athletic practices even before school starts, meetings at lunch, activities afterschool, and classes. Life is challenging in all its complexities.

However, not all young individuals have it this way. Some have to worry about much more; not just trying to get stay up to date with school or getting to sports practices, but just trying to stay alive and maintaining their dignity. We were graced with hearing the story of one of these people, Michel Chikwanine, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

His is a story that exposes you to the capacity of human determination, and a soul that can inspire you beyond belief, as it opens your eyes and puts a face to the many victims of injustices around the world. This is what we, as a school and community, were so fortunate to have been able to be exposed to last Friday.

Michel told us his story, from past and his present. Although it was heart-breaking, he told shared it not to make us pity him or the many that suffer from the same injustices of being a child soldier or living in conflict, but to inspire all of us to seek justice in our world. Michel described the people who influenced his life, the people who changed him, and the people who continue to lead him today.

Throughout his presentation he shared not only his story, but the story of the founder of Free The Children, Craig Kielburger, and the story of many Indian child labourers. His presentation was not centered around himself, but more on the stories of countless people and the connections we make with them.

Throughout Michel’s presentation, I began to make personal connections with his story, through the role models that I have and the ways I deal with difficult situations. I began to understand that it was just by chance that I was able to have been born in a country such as Canada, where I have the opportunity to concentrate on my studies and a healthy life, instead of focusing on staying alive or not being violated.

I realized that just as there were so many people who made it possible for Michel to be standing in front of us and sharing his experiences, there were so many people who made it possible for me to be listening and learning from him. These connections made his presentation so inspirational. Although each of our connections have been different depending on the individual, once the links are made between our minds and those of youth thousands of miles away, we can begin to truly make a difference.

Michel also had a question period during lunch and then was able to see our work for Free The Children and Me To We, the organizations he was representing when he attended and spoke at our Free The Children Gala on Sunday, January 31, 2010 in support of our village in Ecuador.

I feel so incredibly privileged to have had Michel Chikwanine expose his heart and soul to our school community. We are forever thankful for the precious time and thought he gave to us, and the life he let us understand.

“Where we are from should never dictate how far we reach.” ~Grace, age 16, from Tanzania

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