Charles’ smile of success

Img_4014 Posted by David Gough on Wed, 17 Feb 2010 | Bookmark: digg this Post this to del.icio.us Post this to Facebook

Twenty six year old Charles Agele is today studying for a degree in Health Management at the International Health Sciences University, Kampala, but life was much harder 16 years ago as a refugee in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“I was born in 1984 in the small village of Nyei, Panyana, Morobo County, Southern Sudan, when the war had already started.” explained Charles. Nyei village covers an area of approximately 10 square miles and has a population of just over 2,000 people. It is in the extreme southwest of Sudan, it is close to the Uganda and DRC borders with Southern Sudan.

“I first met Charles Agele in August 2006, only 2 months after we arrived to work in Yei, Sudan, when he turned up in my office asking for a job. They just turned up un-announced and demanded I gave them work,” explained John Spens, then the CMS Ireland Coordinator of Yei Vocational Training College (YVTC). John continues “The boys had just arrived in town, knew no one and had nowhere to stay. They ended up sleeping on the floor of the house of the Dean of Immanuel Cathedral in Yei.”

In 1993 Charles, although only a young boy, realised that that his country was at war and he noticed that community life had started to deteriorate as the war impacted his local village and people lived in fear of their lives. Then in 1994 Charles, his mother, father, brother and 2 sisters fled from the war in Sudan across the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as refugees. They initially lived in the bush near a village called Didi, 75kms from the nearest Refugee Camp called Langa. “We were able to sell goats we brought the goats with us from Sudan to buy cassava for food” shares Charles. Eventually the family moved into Didi and built a tukle, a mud and wattle grass-roofed home.

Charles was desperate to go back to school, he had just completed P3 before fleeing Sudan and was eager to learn, but there was no school in Didi. One day while going to the market he saw UNHCR trucks transporting refugees to Langa Refugee Camp, this gave Charles an idea how he could continue his education. The next day he returned to the market found the UNHCR staff, who were registering people who wanted to be transferred to the Refugee Camp. Without telling his parents he registered as a refugee with UNHCR and within days was transferred alone to Langa Camp. A few days after arriving he was sent to school, firstly to P2, within days he was transferred to P3 because he was top of his class. But now he had the added difficulty of learning French and no parents or siblings to help and encourage him. Because he had said he was an orphan when he arrived at the camp he was asked to live with another family at the camp. In 1995, unknown to him, Charles’ parents returned to Sudan.

Soon afterwards one of the many rebel groups in Eastern DRC attacked and destroyed Langa Camp and Charles was transferred to another Refugee camp called Birringe. He again attended school at Birringe and soon was excelling at his work, his teacher was so impressed with his progress she asked him to look after her children for 2 months in a place called Aru near the DRC border with Uganda. After the 2 months he eventually returned to Birringe and found his teacher. “My teacher tried to get me into P4 for the remainder of the term, but she did not succeed,” Charles explained. Finally in 1996 Charles was accepted into P6 even though he had not attended any P5 classes. But given the opportunity again Charles made the best of it successfully sitting his Primary leaving examinations.

Because Charles was an officially registered UNHCR refugee they agreed to pay for his Secondary School education, including the fees, providing food and even some pocket money. He progressed through S1 to S2 (2nd year of Secondary School) before moving yet again to a school in Mahamga County, Eastern Congo to complete his S3 year. Then it happened again, “Another group of rebels attacked our school and I was forced to move home and school again, but I nothing was going to stop me completing my education,” he said. Charles moved back to Aru and finally completed S4, S5 and S6 graduating with his Secondary School Diploma in 2006. He was in the highest achieving group of students in his year group.

In July 2006 Charles and James were officially repatriated back to Sudan from DRC by the UNHCR as part of the Sudan 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Then within a few weeks Charles and James arrived at the offices of the YVTC.

Shortly after arriving in Yei Charles and his childhood friend, James Malish visited the offices United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Yei. From here the young men were referred by the UNHCR staff to John Spens at the YVTC. Later John went and asked the UNHCR why they had done this, they apologised and said they knew the church and the YVTC would not abandon them. John initially refused them work but after talking to Bishop Hilary and getting a character reference from the Dean he offered Charles work as Security Guard and later James as the Gardner at the YVTC. Charles started work in March 2007. Later when another opening arose James joined his friend Charles as a Security Guard and they both lived at the YVTC.

“As Poppy and I got to know the 2 boys we discovered that they graduated with their Senior Diploma and were educated to the equivalent of A level”, shares John. Poppy takes up the story, “Opportunities for training came about through the Irish Aid funded Martha Primary Health Care Centre (PHCC) in Yei which was offering training for Health Care Assistants, Nurses, Laboratory Technicians, Clinical Officers and admin staff for the PHCC.” Charles applied, was interviewed and recruited as the Administrator of Martha PHCC, commencing work in December 2007. While James was successful in getting a place on the Clinical Officer training in DRC, he is still completing the 3-year training course.

“During his 2 years working at Martha PHCC, Charles was certainly an inspiration and example to all the staff. He was meticulous in his work and personable and friendly to all the patients, we miss him. But thankfully he visits on holidays and I’m confident he’ll return to Yei at the end of his 3 year degree having graduated with a high grade in Health Management,” said Poppy.

Charles was still smiling when I met him in Yei during his Christmas holiday in January and prior to returning to his studies in Kampala. His determination to complete his education against all the odds and despite the war in Sudan and rebel incursions in DRC has certainly been character building in this young man. With young well-educated men like Charles and indeed his friend James, my hope is that there will indeed be a very positive future for Southern Sudan.