24 Feb
  • By Isaac Msiska
  • Cause in

The boy from the street

Elvis was 4 years when his father was murdered through food poisoning. Elvis is from DR Congo. As he explained his story, his face was filled with hurt and pain at the recollection of the events. A few months following his father’s death, a brutal civil war that culminated into a genocide, erupted forcing Elvis, his mother and siblings to run for their lives. Their destination was Kansai where Elvis’ paternal relatives stayed. Elvis thought he would find solace in Kansai but the deteriorating living conditions at his relatives’ place left him with no option but to flee and live alone in the streets. That marked his difficult life as a street kid. For two years Elvis literally slept on sidewalks and survived by doing random jobs like carrying luggage for strangers, sweeping, doing laundry and other quirky jobs.

He was only 7 then. Life in the streets meant that Elvis had no prospects of going to school. In fact, given the tough situation he was in, the thought hardly crossed his mind. So, with a clearly botched future and no chance of making it in life, 7-year-old Elvis lived like a vagrant. Elvis recalled that it was the most depressing years of his childhood but there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

A small door to his ruined future opened when a certain man who hired Elvis as an occasional walk-in domestic worker took Elvis in, put a roof over his head and paid for his primary school. It was the first time Elvis was stepping foot into class after some years and it was something he never anticipated. However, the positive turning point was swiftly cut short when the man got married and stopped sponsoring Elvis’ education. Once again, the little boy, Elvis found himself back in the streets. He was severely dejected.

“I went through torment. It was one of those times that I desperately needed a psychiatrist to talk to. I was breaking down.” Elvis revealed that on multiple occasions, he even contemplated suicide because he felt like he had no purpose in life.

Escape from home

Circumstances barely smiled on Elvis and his world was further turned upside down when another civil war broke down in the eastern part of DR Congo. Elvis fled yet again and this time his destination was neighbouring Zambia. The escape to Zambia was not that easy. During the journey to cross the border, Elvis ran into a militant rebel group which captured him and made attempts to turn him into a child soldier. The rebels forcibly kept him for several months.

“They treated us like animals. We were often beaten and they threatened to hunt us down and kill us if we attempted to escape.” However, Elvis took a daring feat and one night, he broke free from the militia camp and made it to the border into Zambia. He sought refuge at Maheba refugee settlement, 700km from Zambia’s capital Lusaka. The event also sealed his fate as a refugee.

Broken dreams

During all these troubling times, Elvis’ vision was to continue with his education but the big question was “how?” He had a deep passion for computer science which stemmed from his childhood interest in electronics. Elvis explained that since a tender age, he has always been curious with how electronics and computers work and he used to repair radios and phones. His dream was to study either computer science or Information Technology (IT). But “life on the run” did not exactly give him the possibility of pursuing that profession. While in Maheba, he tried in vain to go back to school. He had no sponsors and with no means of even feeding himself, the dream of returning to school was nothing but a broken dream. In 2007, Elvis transferred to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi where he briefly reunited with his long lost older step-sister. In Dzaleka, things slowly started to improve and Elvis was able to complete his secondary school education. There are a few international scholarship programmes in Dzaleka, so, after passing his national secondary school examinations, and with high hopes, he applied for one of them. He never made it.

“I was heartbroken,” he said, “I was so sure I would secure that scholarship.” Competition for such scholarships among refugees in Dzaleka is so high that only a few make it each year.

The IT guru

Some years later, Elvis was informed about our university scholarship programme and in 2015, he was among the sponsored refugee students that we took in. That gave birth to a whole new era of his future. In his own words, “it was like a dream come true” only that this time the dream had indeed come true. Elvis enrolled in an IT course at a college in the city. For the first time, his vision had taken form. It was also the first time he was living outside a refugee camp since his escape from DRC. This was the moment he had been waiting for and he was determined to seize it at all cost. During his studies, Elvis displayed unique brilliance that caught the attention of the college’s management. So, when the college experienced a shortage of lecturers several months down the line, Elvis was brought in to fill the void as a support lecturer.

“I could not believe it,” he said, fighting back tears of joy at the memory “I taught 5 subjects.” The stipend he received from the job was an added bonus since it helped Elvis to cover his basic needs. Elvis was also hired as a part-time lecturer of Computer Engineering at a popular college where he teaches weekend classes.

“These are not ordinary people I teach. My students are managers and bosses of top organizations. Who knew that one day a street kid would stand in front of professionals and deliver a lecturer? I look back and say all this is There is Hope.”

Elvis is completing his studies this year. He plans to set up his own IT consultancy firm and he is adamant that he will achieve the goal. Considering how far he has come, there is no doubt that he will.