Global Citizen’s Emerging Creatives Program Presents: ‘Life in the Camp’

Author: Ruth Mutana

Illustration by Evan Twohy

Ruth Mutana is a creative writer living in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, who uses writing to share stories of the disastrous impact of poverty and inequality on the most vulnerable communities. Mutana contributed the following short story as July's contributor for Global Citizen's Emerging Creatives Program.

I perched myself near the exit of the dimly lit room; through the broken wall, I could see the harsh struggles of daily life. My older sister Sekani passed by, enduring the weight of the 20-liter bucket, which rested on her head arrogantly. I gulped a pint of saliva down my dry throat as temporary satiation as I awaited my 100-milliliter dose of water for the day. I was jolted back to the classroom atmosphere by the teacher's stern voice.

"Kondwani, please give us the answer," she said.

I saw all eyes big and small, fixed in the direction where I sat, rooted to my chair without a care. I had not even grasped the question that had been directed to me. Clearing my throat in feigned hesitation, I heard Ulemo giving the answer from the front row where she sat, with full-fledged confidence. My chest heaved with relief; she had saved me from a potentially embarrassing moment.

A few students clapped hands for her but most of us were dying to get a breath of the fresh air outside. Although the air outdoors was mostly dry and humid, it was far better than the reeks of sweat and trapped heat in the classroom. Concentrating under these circumstances was a nightmare. With a hundred of us tightly packed in one tiny room, the heat and stiff air yielded a suffocating and equally nauseating experience. I felt bad for the 10-year-old students who had to be part of a class that was two years ahead of them. Although it was so difficult for them to grasp Advanced Grade 7 topics, they did not seem to mind at all. Everyday, they came in with fresh hopes as if the outcome would be different.

As we all rose to leave for lunch, I heard our teacher announcing a science assignment we were supposed to do at home. I really loved science; my best dreams were those in which I wore a lab coat and held a test tube over a Bunsen burner. But those dreams were gone. I would not get to flip the pages of a science textbook tonight and feel the smell of its print in my nostrils. I could no longer take in the images of the men and women working in a lab, and dream about becoming them someday. All my textbooks had been washed away by the recent floods. In the tattered plastic bag I hung on my arm was a book, pencil, and pen. It's all I had.

I hurried outside to get a gasp of air. Looking up, I felt the sun scorch my face mercilessly and I quickly looked down, using my hand as a shield from the blazing sun. The heat underneath my bare feet was excruciating. I could feel blisters immediately forming on my skin. Fatsani tapped me gently on the shoulder and I looked at his beaming face. My eyes quickly scanned him, in search of the reason for his smile — something I had not seen in ages. As my eyes traveled to his legs, I saw a pair of plastic sandals on his feet. My eyes flickered in celebration. He danced in them with all his might, filling the air with fine dust particles.

In the depth of joy and happiness, I did not see Fatsani stretching his hand towards me. I only came back to my senses when he tapped me again impatiently.

"Come on, Kondwani. Try them on. You have no idea how I pleaded with my father to also get you a pair," he said.

I quickly sat on the ground despite the heat that was unleashed on my buttocks. It was so intense as all I had on was my thin school shorts. I bit my lip as I tried to put the sandals on as fast as I could. Dusting my backside, I sprang to my feet and flaunted the footwear before my dear friend who was too engrossed in his own pair to notice anyway. Putting my arm on his shoulder, I smiled from ear to ear.

"Oh! Thank you, Fatsani," I exclaimed.

He nodded joyfully in response, the look of happiness and contentment still neatly displayed on his face.

We headed home for lunch. The more strides we took, the more our stomachs rumbled, not only with hunger, but anxiety as well. It wasn't a surprise to end the day the way we had started it — without any food. But it was a painful experience one could never get used to. For growing boys like us, the pain was simply unbearable. The moment we arrived at the tent, mother was there by the door with a busy look, probably tidying up. It's all she did ever since the floods took everything from us. I had learned to accept that it was her way of coping with stress and staying afloat.

Image: Louis Suwedi

"Kondwani," she said happily, with a childish grin.

Her bright smile faded quickly when she saw that Fatsani was with me. I'm sure she was already working out the math of who would eat and who would go hungry that day.

"Fatsani," she said, trying to feign a smile.

Mother looked at my clad feet and her face lit up with a beautiful smile. The moment I looked at Fatsani, she instantly knew and quickly expressed her gratitude.

"Oh Fatsani, please say thank you to your father for me, alright?"

My friend nodded, feeling pleased with himself.

We sat on the bare ground inside the tent with so much anticipation. We winked at each other as Sekani led us outside to wash our hands. As we came back in and sat down again, a plate with two boiled maize cobs was served before us. I grabbed one of the mealies with both hands, but quickly put it back when I realized that Fatsani was praying for the food. I secretly reprimanded myself. It was necessary to pray for this blessing which did not come easily.

As we munched the cobs away, the chewing sounds made by our impatient teeth were all Sekani and mother could hear. A small cup of water was placed before us to share. After we drank down the last drop, we clapped our hands and thanked my mother profusely. She handed Fatsani a small plastic bag with dried beans to give to his father. I'm sure it was a token of appreciation for the warm gesture he had extended to me. Fatsani clapped his hands before receiving the parcel. We left the tent and headed to Fatsani's home.

Outside the tent, we were welcomed with noise and commotion. A group of people formed a circle, blocking our eyes from getting a vivid glimpse of what was going on. Exchanging impatient glances, we walked towards the gathering at a brisk pace. Soon enough, we caught sight of Kumbukani, our fellow classmate. He was standing in the middle of the circle of people. His face was buried in his chest and tears streaming down his cheeks, landing on the slice of bread he held in his hand. All we heard were groans and murmurs, which ranged from expressions of anger to dismay and pity from the onlookers.

The center of attention seemed to be Mr. Chifundo, a tall dark man. He was one of the few men who lived in the camp.

"How dare you enter my house to steal from me? How dare you? Do I toil and labor to feed that stomach of yours, huh?" Mr. Chifundo was yelling in anger at Kumbukani.

I looked at the "house" Mr. Chifundo was bragging about and the irony of it made my mind question the sincerity in his words. The assemblage of plastic, cardboard, and grass was the house he was protecting. Everyone in the community lived in similar "houses." If ever the rainy season was to commence, Mr. Chifundo would be slapped back to reality that whatever he thought was a house was far from being one. The bread in Kumbukani's hand was clearly moldy, perhaps Mr. Chifundo hadn't realized.

Raising his hand to strike the boy, who stood frozen with terror, the man got a grip of the boiling rage within him when he saw Kumbukani's mother now standing in front of him, protecting her son, who poked his head out from behind her. Before Mr. Chifundo could gush out a torrent of hurtful words at the duo, Kumbukani's mother began to sob.

"I’m so sorry for this. It's my fault. My son hasn't eaten in days. I have failed as a mother. Please do not unleash your wrath upon him," she wailed.

Mr. Chifundo blinked many times after hearing the woman's sad words. A quick look at her made us look down in shame. All she had was a thin wrap around her body. Kumbukani could be heard sobbing behind his mother's back. I looked at Fatsani and we both shook our heads in dismay. Mr. Chifundo stormed back into his tent after shouting at everyone to leave and go mind their own affairs.

A wave of sadness seeped into our hearts as we left the place. Drama was the order of the day in our community. Each time, it opened our innocent minds to how broken everyone and everything was. In that state of silence, we walked to Fatsani's tent about a kilometer away from where I lived. His father reached home at the same time as us with a sack on his shoulder. Fatsani's face lit up with excitement, hoping the sack's contents were edible. I secretly envied him but didn’t dare show it. I thanked his father for bestowing the valuable gift I now wore proudly on my feet.

"It's alright son," he reassured me benevolently.

I wished to stay for supper. I was sure Fatsani's father would not mind, but I knew I would be on the receiving end of my mother's anger if I got home after it was dark. I said goodbye to Fatsani and headed back home as fast as my feet allowed me.

The moment I arrived home, the smell of Camphor Cream and green washing soap overwhelmed my nostrils. I could see mother and Sekani gleaming in the rather dark tent. I was glad they had already bathed. I didn't have to go out and wait while repeatedly asking if they were done from outside. Mother looked straight at my feet, which were now baked with dust and I knew what I had to do. Taking the plastic dish outside with a little lukewarm water in it, I scrubbed the dust off my body as fast as I could because the cold was already seeping straight into my bones. I changed into my only shorts and t-shirt, which Sekani diligently washed for me each morning after I left for school. The sleeping arrangement inside our tent always took me back to the time when I was a king of my own little room, with my own bed and a note clumsily written: "Knock before you enter." Though this rule was broken more than it was observed, the sense of having my own space was golden.

Image: Louis Suwedi

I detached my mind from the longings of the past that I could not bring back and tightly wrapped a blue thin blanket around my body. The sky was already pitch black, but many voices could be heard outside, speaking in hushed tones.

"No, he already paid. I am not negotiating. I already have a client for tonight," a young female voice desperately bargained.

Mother cursed inaudibly. Clearing her throat, she whispered, "This place is many things, most of which are evil. Our young daughters are desperate to escape the pangs of hunger. They can do just about anything. We have been reduced to scavengers. All we think of is survival no matter the means. Soon enough, this place won't only be the haven of sordid poverty, but also the melting pot of sickness and disease."

My mother's words scared me. Thoughts of atrocious diseases we had learned about in science sprouted in my mind. The one I hated the most was HIV, which gradually matured into a full-blown version called AIDS. I closed my eyes tightly to dispel the nasty thoughts that were flooding my head.

I forced my mind to think of my new sandals and resolved to wake up a few minutes earlier than usual to give them a quick clean in the morning, before going to school. Sekani was already snoring loudly, shrugging, tossing, and turning. I looked away from her that instant. I didn't want to end up seeing anything that was not meant for my eyes. But it was dark, my worries were misplaced. I clicked my tongue after this realization. My sister mumbled and shrugged her arms violently. I only hoped she wasn't having a nightmare. She worked so hard daily, she at least deserved to be rewarded with soothing and kindness in the land of dreams.

Early the next morning, I closed my eyes briefly for my morning prayer of gratitude. Mother always said it was important to express thanks to the Creator twice each day. She watched me secretly while she did her morning chores, probably proud that I was following her footsteps. I folded my blanket clumsily and began preparing for school. Peeping through the black plastics, most children looked busy, preparing for the new day to learn new things.

Some parents helped with immense determination. In spite of the harsh learning circumstances, our parents were not willing to give up on us. Cyclone Ana had visited our land early in January, leaving a trail of disaster and destruction. Some classrooms were leveled down to the ground, our textbooks and stationery were washed away, and all our possessions were gone. The sound of a roaster could never be heard in our community for no one had even a single chicken. Whenever the feelings of sadness overwhelmed me, my mother would place her hand gently on my cheek and look emphatically into my eyes that were welling up with tears.

Gently as always, she would speak straight to my soul.

"Son, I know this situation is horrible, there is nothing good about it. But you are the essence of hope. Work hard at school for yourself, not for me. Do what you can to live a life of dignity one day, son."

From mother's words, it was clear that no matter the tempest, I had to stay afloat. I had to keep the flame of hope alight.

Sekani could still be heard snoring loudly but mother didn't bother to wake her up. She had already written her Form 4 examinations and had excelled so well that mother brandished her result slip to all her friends and neighbors. But once the cyclone came and reduced us to a state of poverty, Sekani's dreams of going to college were quickly caught up in the net of tragedy. I only prayed one day the tables would turn for her. Sleeping was her way of escaping life's bitter realities.

I left the house with my plastic bag on my arm as usual. The only difference is that I now had a pair of sandals. I kept looking down and admiring how they preserved my feet from the dust. Our school had learned to be lenient with us. In the past, one would never get away with an incomplete school uniform. But now, even coming to school with shorts and no shirt was a sign of stern commitment. Our parents had come to seek refuge at the school when the floods destroyed our houses. The school administration knew exactly what we were going through. Though they felt moved to the intestines, they only had the empathy but not the means to help us.

Sitting at my usual spot in the classroom, my eyes searched eagerly for Fatsani, but he was out of sight. Our teacher came in and made a follow up on the homework, though she already knew we could not do it. Looks of frustration could be seen on many faces. Fatsani tiptoed through the back entrance like a thief. I winked at him and we both smiled as he found a place to sit. Fatsani had transcended the friendship level, he was like a brother to me. Seeing him every day gave me that fresh scent of hope even on the gloomiest day.

I didn't like being the center of attention, but I had to break out of my cocoon and ask a very important question to Mrs. Tomu. I stood up.

"Uuhm, excuse me ma'am, from my understanding, the circumstances refugees live under is largely similar to how we live in the nearby community. Does that mean we are refugees too?" I asked, timidly.

My colleagues burst into laughter as if I had cracked a joke. I looked at their open mouths with disdain and sat down, feeling disappointed, but our teacher rescued me from my fellow students.

"That’s a good question, Kondwani. In the past, the term refugee strictly applied to people who left their homes or countries due to war and political distress, but due to change in circumstances which force people to leave their homes, the word should be interpreted broadly," Mrs Tomu responded kindly. "Climate refugees fit in the ambit of refugees. They leave their places of habitation due to extreme weather patterns, which make the places they used to live inhabitable. They find themselves without food, shelter, medical care, and many other essential services."

To my surprise, everyone clapped their hands when she finished speaking. I hoped they had realized that they should not have laughed at me for asking earlier. I also wanted to ask if the United Nations Refugee Agency also helps these "climate refugees" but I decided to reserve my question for another day. The lesson continued despite popular displeasure and boredom. It was already so hot despite it still being morning, I wondered what awaited us in the afternoon.

After the lesson, we all hurried out of the classroom as usual. I saw Fatsani waiting near the exit.

He tousled my short black hair playfully.

"I didn't know you could speak in class, Kondwani," he joked.

I looked away, feeling shy, but it turned out Fatsani wasn't making fun of me like the rest of them. He was genuinely interested in the concept of climate refugees.

"Kondwani, I think that since we are at risk of impending natural disasters, we should consider moving to safer regions," he said.

I listened to him attentively. I also thought that was the cure we needed to the festering sores the repetitive floods and cyclones had brought into our lives. Somehow, I knew it was not so easy. This is where we had grown up, been raised, where we saw our parents work hard to get everything and witnessed the deep agony they felt when they lost everything. It was a concoction of everything. Pain and happiness served together on the same plate. Still, the familiarity of where we lived was immense; I could not picture myself living in a different place.

We slowly passed by the maize fields which were completely destroyed by the floods. I cursed under my breath. I remembered how my mother would wake Sekani and me in the early hours of the morning on weekends to go till our share of the land. She promised that each person would harvest from the exact place they had tilled. I invested sweat and blood each of those chilly mornings, feeling some blisters growing in my hands, yet ignoring the pain and seeing mental images of myself clutching a huge and healthy maize cob. The long and short of this dream of mine is that it never came to fruition.

We climbed up a small hill and sat there. From the height, we had a view of the camp which loomed in the distance. For once, I felt relief having detached from the noise and drama of the community I lived in. Fatsani fumbled in his plastic bag, took out some boiled groundnuts and extended them to me as always. I clapped my hands and took a handful. As we munched the groundnuts contemplatively, the silence was brought to a halt by a bunch of cheerful monkeys swinging on a tree branch in the vicinity. We both craned our necks to get a better look. The monkeys continued with their affairs, unperturbed. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen a monkey. I am sure most monkeys had either been washed away during Cyclone Idai and Tropical Storm Ana and Gombe, or had fled to save their precious lives. Looking again to get a glimpse of the merry monkeys, I smiled faintly in appreciation.

Quickly, memories of my girl Yankho flickered in my mind. I remembered how she always wagged her tail whenever I came back home from school. She would even follow me to the latrine and wait outside, barking impatiently for me to get out. On school days, I had to always go back home and plead with my mother to distract her from following me to school and safeguarding me from outside the classroom. It made my classmates uneasy; most of them did not have dogs and were really scared of them. I did not sleep a wink the day I lost Yankho. My mind could not process the sight of her being washed away by the torrents of water right before my eyes. I could still hear her barking and whimpering with helplessness.

"Kondwani, you've been staring into space for ages, we came here to have fun didn't we?"

Fatsani spoke in a sad voice and I felt sorry. I shrugged and looked at the tall tree which we leaned against. Winking at Fatsani, we both sprang to our feet, smiling mischievously. Tree climbing was an old habit that became more deeply ingrained in us as we grew older. We always got an enhanced view of everything below as we perched on the apex of the trees. We hugged the branches with our young arms for support, engaged in seemingly endless chit chat and even sang from the tree tops. We screamed, whistled, and marveled at the sound of the echoes.

The moment it began to feel much cooler, we knew we had spent much time away from home, it was time to go back. We cautiously climbed down the tree and dusted off all traces of our tree climbing adventures. Gladly, we walked back to the camps in a warm childish side to side embrace. Once we reached the place where the roads dissected, we stood there for a while making our plans for the weekend before parting ways. We repeatedly stopped in our tracks and looked back to wave and smile before walking again until we were small and distant figures in each other's eyes.

Image: Louis Suwedi

I knew it before I saw any signs of the camp that I was already getting there. Not only was this because I had grown accustomed to treading this path, but also because I could sense the negative energy of the place hovering over my head like an evil spirit. I clicked my tongue and walked on reluctantly. In my mind, I had already decided to walk swiftly to our tent without any further delays. I had just had a very pleasant day and I wanted it to end on a blissful note.

This noble wish of mine was ground to fine dust the moment a tall woman in ragged clothing ran towards me, holding a bundle of filthy and ragged blankets. I shook my head and walked on. She deserved my empathy; she was probably not coping well mentally. As she passed by me, I heard a faint cry as that of a baby. While I tried to listen harder, a group of women were already frog marching her back to the camp. She shrugged her shoulders violently.

"No! Let me go! I need to get to the doctor's tent now," she begged the women.

With a shaky finger, she pointed at a white stained tent which was pitched in isolation from the rest of the camp; it was the only decent tent in the whole area.

I once heard a doctor used to frequently come to attend those who were unwell but over the past few weeks, she had been out of sight.

"The doctor is not there my sister, please, you can't be running around the whole camp like this," a middle-aged woman pleaded, her eyes filled with concern.

"No! I am a mother! I should do everything to protect my child. Are you asking me to give up on her?" the woman roared with boldness that matched that of a lioness.

More and more voices kept telling her that she was chasing the wind, but she would not budge. In a bewildered state, she ran to the white tent at a bolt-like speed.

She could win a gold medal at the Olympics any day, I thought to myself. Desperately she called out for the doctor, peeped inside the tent, begged, pleaded, and cried until she sat on the ground in helplessness. The women who had restrained her earlier walked to her at a brisk pace. I followed them, eager to see the conclusion of the events which had unfolded before my eyes. I watched as the desperate mother scavenged into her clothing, took out a dry-looking breast and foisted it into the mouth of her emaciated baby. The baby didn't move an inch nor did it show any signs of latching. My view was obstructed by the older women who gathered around the poor mother to help her map a way forward. Before I retreated from the scene, I saw my mother looking straight at me. I did not wait a second or seek to explain myself. I simply ran home as fast as I could. My chest heaved from exhaustion by the time I opened the plastic door.

While I awaited some scolding from mother, she came back with Sekani and together they empathized with the woman's plight.

"Innocent babies do not have to suffer like that," Sekani said sadly, close to tears.

Mother walked to her and like a chicken protecting its chick, spread her big arms around her.

"I know my dear; the way we are living here is just cruel. No food. No clean water. No medical treatment. I wonder when this will change," she said.

Mother shook her head, unwilling to impart further negativity to any one of us. We had already had a fair share of the depressing moments. She kept casting a serious look right at me, to remind me that she had seen me where I should not have been. After supper, I burrowed into my thin blue blanket and lost myself in the world of sleep, where everything was bright and beautiful.

Waking up early in the morning, I was relieved it was a Saturday. I did not have to worry about waking up early and taking that cold bath which always sent tremors straight to my bones. I peeped outside and saw dark gray colored clouds in the sky, which seemed to be pregnant with rain. My mind could not process why it seemed the rainy season was upon us yet again despite ending on a grim note two months ago. I did not wish to find any answers to my questions so I buried my whole body and cuddled up like a fetus to spread warmth to my whole body.

I finally woke up again to the sound of my mother's voice singing war songs. I wondered if what we were going through reminded her of the years gone by when she witnessed the armed struggle for freedom from the imperialists as a young girl. Perhaps she needed the morale the brave heroes and heroines had during those trying times. Heroines came in various shapes and forms and they arose from different circumstances.

Fatsani's mother was a heroine and she was always going to be one to my friend and me. On the fateful day when everyone was on a mission to save their own life, she insisted that Fatsani be taken to higher ground first. She urged her husband to save their son first and quickly return for her. Though her husband returned as promised, she had already sojourned to a place where she could never return even if she badly wished to. Fatsani and his father were so devastated by the loss, but the resilient spirit in them made them soldier on like warriors in a fierce battle front.

Instead of going to Fatsani's place during the weekend, I ended up going with Sekani and mother to visit our aunt who lived in Chikovo. I resolved to see my friend on Monday at school and apologize for failing to follow through with our weekend plans. The weekend flew past me, though I longed for it to last longer. It was soon going to be another Monday, that day of the week I could never force myself to like.

On Monday morning, mother woke me up aggressively since she had been trying to do so for a while. For a moment, I thought of knitting a smart excuse to evade school, but I later changed my mind. I could not afford to start my week like that; it was going to bore me to death to just sit idly in that tent. The more alluring option was to go to school and get to see my dear friend Fatsani.

In the classroom, I tried so hard to focus despite the noise, heat, and mixture of body odors, but the task was just so difficult for me. Our teacher could feel the resistance and pitched her voice even higher to counter the challenging circumstances under which she taught. The day progressed slowly and the thought of being in that space until 3 p.m. was simply suffocating. An assembly was convened just before lunch and we scurried out for our freedom. The headmaster advised us that there was an after-lunch program so we were supposed to go back home and return the next day. This announcement was sweet music to my ears. I grabbed Fatsani's hand and together we rushed back to the classroom to get our belongings and headed to our camp excitedly.

We were so shocked to see some people parading around the camps with cameras and other equipment we had never seen anywhere else except the movies. They all wore matching green t-shirts, with a warm and friendly disposition. Once I got into the tent, I could sense that my mother was tense. Sekani peeped through the plastics to get a view of the events that were culminating outside. I wondered why she was not going outside to get the perfect experience. The sight of strangers walking around the camp also made me uneasy, but curious to know the reason for their visit. We rarely had visitors. People started flocking outside and soon enough, we were part of the crowd. The moment we arrived, our village head Ms. Ulemo was giving a very moving speech and a young man with kind eyes fixed his camera to capture everything she said.

"When people come here and see this sordid way of living, they judge us. They look at us with disdain. Our ragged clothes, bare feet, and wasted muscles tell them a story. The way they interpret it is the only problem. Most of them think we are a lazy bunch seeking handouts. How wrong of them to see us in such bad light without knowing our story. We once had a source of living; decent roofs over our head, food on the table, cattle, goats, chickens, but we lost everything. Poverty has many causes and one of these is climate disasters. I watched everything I ever worked hard for vanish right before my eyes and a similar experience happened to each one of us in this camp. You can go look for yourself a few kilometers down south where we used to live. It’s all ruins now," she said.

"Our children look up to us every day, yet we are also losing our grip on hope for tomorrow. We are not asking for money from anyone, we only ask that the government gives us land elsewhere so that we can rebuild our lives. It might take time, but the integrity of being self-sufficient and able to carve your own path is priceless. I could do just about anything to realize that dream in my heart. As the headman, it pains me to see my people living in such dehumanizing circumstances. No food, no clean water, no health care… nothing. Just look at our houses. If it were to rain, imagine what would happen. We have repeatedly asked the government to help us with land to resettle and we don’t know why it’s taking ages like this. All we want is to stand on our own feet. Disasters happen, but we should move on and build back better."

Everyone clapped hands in unison, hoping the chief's voice would be heard where it truly mattered. Children were also asked to give their own narrative of how they had been affected by the floods. Fatsani expressed how the loss of textbooks made the learning process more difficult.

A lady from the crew gave us a short explanation on climate change, its causes and the measures we could take to mitigate the impacts. I never once imagined that even seemingly humble beginnings like planting a single tree and nursing it to growth made a difference. She sternly promised to ensure our voices would be heard by the relevant authorities. Women were asked to line up to receive hampers to take home, each to her family. I saw my mother clap her hands, receiving hers with such a joyful face.

Fatsani and I had the pleasure of talking to one of the guests. He was a young looking man with kind eyes that oozed with life. Taking off his hat and placing it right on my head, he asked for my name, which I uttered jubilantly. The man extended his hand to shake mine and smiled, revealing a set of white teeth. Fatsani pushed me playfully, envying my good fortune.

After sharing their love and kindness with us, they bade us farewell and got onto their mini bus. The whole community continued waving until the bus was out of sight.

That moment I felt something rise in my heart. I still lived in a plastic tent and my plastic "backpack" was still hanging on my arm, but something within me had shifted. It was like new life embedded in a seed finally germinating with great zeal. This was hope, my dear mother's favorite word. I also wanted to be the light on another person's path. I wanted to turn the tables of my life around.

But until then, I still had to look upwards and not downwards.

I had to keep dreaming and waiting until the time was right.

The hope in my heart was the starting point of my journey out of gloom and into the healing light of peace.

Global Citizen’s Emerging Creatives Program provides a platform for emerging creatives in the Global South that are highlighting the need for open civic space worldwide. Through their art, they call for change, shine a light on social injustices, and advocate for the advancement of the Global Goals.

This program was made possible thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation.