Youth Leaders: “We are the Change”
Written by Meg Deitz, Mission Bay High School
As a society we pride ourselves in having the “next new thing.” We spend our lives striving to be “in the know.” Gossip magazines, video games, television shows, and Internet crazes have created a false understanding of what is actually going on in our world. Through our never-ending desire to have the “next new thing,” like the latest cell phone, we be- gin to forget where they come from and who may have suffered in its production. Sedrick Murhula is one of millions of people that has fallen victim to our consumer culture. Murhula was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the richest country in the world in terms of resources. However, according to The Enough Project, “Armed groups [in Eastern Congo] earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by trading conflict minerals. These minerals can be found in all our electronic devices,” which include our mobile phones, computers, and even gaming systems. Thus, due to nationwide corruption, western exploitation and conflict, the Congo is currently one of the poorest countries in the world and has forced thousands of people to leave their country as refugees.
Murhula experienced first-hand the life of a refugee. He spent his childhood cramped in a 4x3 room with seven family members, ate about once a day, spent two years without schooling, and rarely found work. Despite the immense difficulties in Murhula’s life, he maintained his strength and hope for the future. There are three options for refugees offered by the United Nations (UN); voluntary reparations, which entails returning to one’s home country; integration, which allows the refugee to become a citizen of the country providing refuge; and resettlement, which allows a refugee to become a citizen of a new country. Unfortunately, voluntary reparations rarely occur, thorough integration is not often implemented, and only 1% of all refugees are resettled.
Murhula began to discuss alternatives and possibilities for change with others in his local refugee community. Thus, he founded Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID), an organization that unites refugees, orphans, and internally displaced per- sons through skill training and sports. Through this, program participants ad- dress issues like ethnic violence, youth unemployment, public health and conflict resolution. YARID has enabled hundreds of refugee youths to strengthen their leadership skills, become self-sufficient and exude empowerment. As Murhula describes, “They now call each other brother and sister with unity and integrity.”
Following his own advice, Murhula has become an advocate for change within the refugee community, “We are the ones that we have been waiting for. We are the change.” However, towards the beginning of Murhula’s journey with YARID, he lost his mother in a fire. He could only de- scribe this time in his life with one word: hopelessness. He felt that there was no possible way for him to help a world that was already destined for cruelty. At this time, Murhula’s father decided to start the resettlement process for his family. Resettlement seemed like the only answer for the family to escape their hardship. Through this, Murhula was forced to endure a series of interviews with UN representatives where he had to relive his unsettling life by retelling his story several times. “They make you re-stamp the memories, the same memories that you try to forget in order to resettle.” However, Murhula realized that in order to strive for a future, he would have to confront his past. “There are things that can happen in life, but life goes on,” he said. “There comes a time when you must move on.”
Although Murhula was eventually resettled in the United States, he realized that the only true way to move on was to allow this change to take place from within. Now living in San Diego, Murhula has continued his work with YARID. He believes that this is the least he can do for the community who gave him the hope and strength to continue to move for- ward in his life. He strives each day to give a voice to the voiceless. He follows the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We must become advocates for peace. In his eyes, “peace means food for the hungry and medicine for the sick.” We must work together and support one another’s organizations. As Murhula proclaims, “It doesn’t matter what age, race or gender you are. […] Who is going to make change, if it is not you and I?”