Conflict & Justice

Nearly killed in Sierra Leone, this refugee has found more than a home in Worcester, Mass.

Downtown_Worcester%2C_Massachusetts.jpg

Credit: Terageorge/Wikimedia Commons

Downtown Worcester, Massachusetts, has become home to refugee Augustine Kanjia.

Augustine Kanjia's poem, below, will blow you away.

Kanjia fled Sierra Leone for Gambia, and eventually wound up in Worcester, Mass., a place he says has embraced him and his family, and become his home.

"When I came to Worcester, I came with nothing. And when I was introduced, everybody came with a helping hand," he says. "As a refugee, I was really a needy person with my family. In fact, my first car was bought by one of the citizens of Worcester, Mr. Burke. He just got me a car — I never imagined that it could happen. That gave me eyes to really see into Worcester."

While friends have asked Kanjia to move to places like Minnesota, where a large African refugee population lives, he says he won't leave because Worcester is now his home. Though the New England climate can be a bit chillier than Sierra Leone, Kanjia says he even loves the weather.

"I love to see snow," he says. "I tell my family that I really love the snow, and they may frown, but they know I'm saying the truth. I go out with my kids sometimes to help them play in the snow. Because of the help in Worcester, winter is not a big deal. We all bear it."

While the simple pleasures of a snowy day can be enjoyed in a place like Worcester, the community also offers Kanjia something Sierra Leone couldn't: Safety.

"There was violence in Sierra Leone starting in 1991, then they took over my area — my grandmother's home where we lived," he says. "Unfortunately, nobody could go then, and then one day the government announced that people were free to go and they had repeled the rebels. I boarded a bus one evening, unfortunately we had a massive attack on the road."

Kanjia says that the road he was traveling on was quiet, until the bus started down a hill.

"There was a bullet that came from nowhere, and it was targeted at the driver and he died," he says. "The bus was going left to right on the road. It swayed and then we stopped somewhere down the hill. People started jumping — there were rebels there, and anybody who jumped was killed, was shot at. I was in that bus. I laid flat on the floor and held onto somebody who was ahead of me. He was trying to force his way out. He pushed himself out through the door and I still held on him tight. Then he was shot. He fell. I still held onto him and because of his weight he pulled me out of the bus."

Kanjia says the rebels may have thought he was dead too when he fell with the man. He laid on top of the dead bodies and then eventually rolled underneath the bus. The rebels robbed him, but he was able to escape with his life.

"They heard another sound of a vehicle — there were about three of them and they ran towards where we came from," he says. "They set fire to the bus, and the fire was ravaging. People's heads were popping out — you'd hear 'Pop! Pop!' Eventually, I withdrew from under the bus and nobody was there then. As I was moving, I saw a lady moving too. She was asking if we were dead."

Kanjia says he and the woman walked alone in the dark through the bush. Eventually, they made it on foot to a village and were able to seek safety. After the ordeal, Kanjia was able to obtain asylum and come to the United States.

"I came into New York, then Boston, and then somebody picked us up from Boston and gave us a ride to Worcester, where I have made my home today," he says. 

 

"Worcester my home town
Love, peace, shared daily
Ran from Africa looking for peace and love
Only found it in Worcester in the heart of Massachusetts
Yes Worcester, this is where I belong

Left where I swallowed the dust due to war
Escaped in a hail of bullets
The suffering to safety was not small
Never knew there was a place better than Sierra Leone
Yes Worcester here we are, this is where I belong

Left Africa due to war
Never knew where God had destined me to;
but to where I belong, my home
Love peace and sharing abound in my home town
No one falls in my home town; all arms are open to help
Yes Worcester my heart, this is where I belong

Take away my cap and leave my Worcester
My home a melting pot
Diversity makes us one all striving in one spirit
The spirit of America!
To maintain peace, love and unity
Where else can you find caring people using their heads hearts?
Worcester sweet home, this is where I belong."

 

As part of National Poetry WLRN in Miami, in conjunction with the O, Miami poetry festival, has launched a poetry project called "This Is Where," inviting people to submit poems about places that have meaning. PRI's The Takeaway has joined in. Every Wednesday this month, The Takeaway will feature one of your poems. To participate, write a short poem describing a place that is important to you and submit it at TheTakeaway.org or on Twitter. If you're submitting on Twitter, include the hashtag #ThisIsWhere.

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