Dear Refugee showcases authentic life stories and real letters from young people to refugees who have shaped their lives.
Solange Ingabire, 22, was born and raised in Kiziba refugee camp, Rwanda. Her mother fled the threat of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996 and had Solange four years later. Now a student in Costa Rica, Solange recalls the incredible influence her mother has had on her, championing education despite not having had the opportunity to study herself.
This letter has been edited for length and clarity.
As I write these words, some 12,000 kilometres away from you, I imagine you spreading love in the camp as you always do. You must either be busy helping neighbours or going around selling potatoes and plantains from local producers.
I am excited to write this letter appreciating the love and care that you have always shown me. Mom, you have been such an exceptional parent, my role model, and the reason for who I am today.
Education always seemed an unattainable goal to me, until you sat me down and started sharing with me your journey, how you struggled to go to school, walking miles every day until you could not do it anymore.
Despite your limited literacy, you have become a champion for education and when you told me that I am nothing without education, I could not forget that advice. You have always given me reasons to think beyond the challenges we were facing. The memories we shared (good or bad) are my strength and my motivation for success.
I remember one midnight when just the two of us were sleeping in a tent, and suddenly it started raining. I can recall I was in a deep sleep, and in a calm voice you woke me up and said; “my daughter the house is full of water, and it’s leaking everywhere.”
I will not forget how gently you covered me with your garment to make me a bit warm waiting for the rain to stop. That was one of the longest nights I have ever had. I was surprised to see your beautiful smile in the early morning despite the sleepless night, and this left me with an important lesson of being happy and grateful in all circumstances.
My childhood is full of memories worth remembering, with all your stories, teaching us the hymns, and biblical verses, and praying for us before we went to bed. That daily routine made me spiritually strong and a prayer warrior – developed a singing talent in me.
I can never forget the many faces you put smiles on. You would often bring people with mental health disorders home, wash them and feed them. Some were your neighbours in Congo before the war. Sharing the little you had was your habit.
As a child, all I wanted was the love and care from my family and it was given to me even beyond what I expected. However, as I started growing up, the question “where are you from?” remained a mystery. Because I never stepped foot in my homeland even a single day, I could have thought of myself as nobody, a worthless person, vulnerable, and of course, a refugee. Thank you for encouraging me to think beyond this and to focus on the impact I can have in the world. I can’t imagine what could have happened to me without your guidance.
I can remember the family’s excitement when I got selected for a scholarship to study in Costa Rica, and of course no one could believe it, not even myself. I can remember the joy of boarding the plane for the first time, the takeoff, and the landing. That was the most amazing feeling I have ever experienced.
My life in Costa Rica was a bit challenging at the beginning because it was my first time going outside of Rwanda and being far from our family. Learning Spanish was hard but you and the siblings made the experience fun on our video calls, asking me to greet you in Spanish and repeating the words after me.
Solange’s mother fled DRC in 1996 but to this day the situation remains critical as armed conflict in much of eastern DRC in recent years, as well as inter-communal violence, continues to uproot Congolese both within and beyond the country's borders.