Please note: Effective 12 March 2018, Vine Community Services Limited (VCSL) has changed its official name to Branches of Hope.
Benjamin grew up in Burundi, East Africa with two siblings. His father was a coffee farmer and his mother a housewife looking after the home and educating the children. During the civil war, Benjamin’s family was murdered. He was placed into a refugee camp with thousands of other people, all living in the same space with no toilets and very little food or water. He saw many people die in front of him. The unhygienic conditions caused Benjamin to become ill, but someone in the camp did their best to take care of him. One night this person smuggled Benjamin and others out of the country. Benjamin arrived in Hong Kong delirious, confused and without a passport, identification or the ability to communicate. Thus began 45 days of questioning. During this time his sickness worsened, but he was not offered any medical attention. A passerby noticed Benjamin, and called the UN on his behalf. Within half an hour, the immigration officials picked Benjamin up to take him to the immigration building in Wan Chai, where he was placed in a holding room for three days before then being moved to a local prison. It was here that he finally received the two things he needed most: medical attention and an open line of communication to the UNHCR (United Nations of High Commission of Refugees). It took Benjamin almost two months to recover from his illness and once he did, the UNHCR moved him to an old people’s home in Kennedy Town, a bustling district. Even though he was no longer stuck at the airport, in holding rooms or in prison, this new environment was the hardest of all. Living without any friends, in a new country filled with strangers that he could not communicate with, Benjamin decided to take his life. He travelled to the UNHCR office to inquire about the progress of his case one last time. When the officials informed him that they had no news, he stepped into the bathroom to swallow pills that he had brought with him. A short while later, in the UNHCR waiting room, Benjamin collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he remained in a coma for seven days.
As he regained consciousness he once again found himself disoriented and confused. Benjamin recalls, “The next day, one of the other people in the ward had a visitor, and he also came over to me and started talking to me. His name was Daughin Chan and he was a Christian, visiting his father-in-law. He asked about why I was in hospital, so I told him everything. He listened, and then told me about how I can have hope in God and Jesus Christ. I had heard about Jesus in Burundi and was against it, to be honest. But now the story seemed different. I had nothing else, so I agreed to pray with him to receive Christ in my heart. What did I have to lose? As we were praying, it is hard to describe, but all the darkness and heaviness that I had been feeling seemed to lift from me……I began to have a new sense of hope. Not complete optimism, but hope for the future.” Daughin gave Benjamin his mobile number and told him to call once he was out of hospital. They became friends and eventually Daughin brought Benjamin to the Vine. Through the refugee ministry, members of the church began to help Benjamin with the process of becoming an official refugee; by giving advice about living in Hong Kong, praying with him and supporting him whilst he waited for news. Benjamin tells us that through the power of friendship and community, he found the mental strength to wait and put his time to good use by volunteering at a local orphanage. “As my faith in Jesus grew, my dependence in life shifted from what UNHCR could do for me to what Jesus could do for me.”
Benjamin received the news that he could become a citizen of Tanzania (Burundi borders Tanzania). Although by this point he had established a strong network of friends and supporters in Hong Kong, the opportunity of being able to return to his home continent and have a home country was the answer to his prayers. He was no longer a refugee or asylum seeker. He had a home once more and he had a passport to prove it! Not long after, he returned to Africa and started working with street children in Tanzania’s cities.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual.