From Kjerstin Erickson, Founder and Executive Director of FORGE
“I just received this story from our field staff about a man named Antoine, a Congolese refugee who has been running one of our computer training labs since 2005. We’ve all worked closely with Antoine for the past 2 years, yet strangely nobody knew his story. It’s energizing and refreshing to hear about the things that the people around you have overcome – and with what strength and poise, you’d never know the difference…”.
Antoine was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1981. When he was a 17 year-old schoolboy, the war came to his village. Because Antoine’s father’s job was to report on human rights abuses, Antoine’s family became a natural target for the invading army. They raided his home, tied his father to a tree, and began to beat him. The family fled to the bush for safety, but as they ran they heard gunshots ring through the night. They didn’t hear from their father again, and were convinced of his murder. After his father’s death, Antoine went to live with an uncle. His uncle owned a computer and taught Antoine some basic computer skills, enough to land him a job upon completion of high school.
As he worked, Antoine’s goal was always to go to college to further his computer education. In 2003, five years after his father’s disappearance and presumed death, Antoine received a letter with his father’s handwriting and signature. Shocked and thrilled to hear that his father had survived, Antoine and his family traveled to Zambia to reunite. Their father had made it to Kala Kala Refugee Camp in Zambia , where he had been trying to reach his family for the past 5 years. Because his father could not return to Congo for fear of his life, the family decided to stay together in Kala camp. When FORGE went to establish a computer lab in Kala in 2005, Antoine’s computer experience made his the natural choice for Computer Instructor. Antoine accepted the opportunity to help his fellow refugees learn the same skills that had helped him in life, and for the past 2 years has been teaching a full load of classes in English, French and Swahili.
During this time, Antoine has written a computing textbook over 400 pages long in simple French, including topics in computer basics, Word, Excel, Access, Power Point, and Internet Explorer. With Congolese refugees now returning home, many of Antoine’s former students have contacted him, reporting that they had secured jobs because of their basic computer knowledge. Antoine is ready to go to college, but refuses to leave until his assistants at the Computer Center are ready to take over in full. In his time with FORGE, Antoine has learned the many ways that his skills can benefit others. When he returns to college, he will study humanitarian organization management. To this, he says, “I now know much about computers, so I’m dreaming to one day help other refugees when my refugee status is gone.”