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The cost of freedom

“Where am I? Why are my eyes covered? Where is my wife? My family?” Bunga Bola Paulin, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that he hopes no one ever has to ask those questions — ones he found himself asking.
The state of confusion those questions described lasted for at least 19 days, over which Paulin experienced repeated violence from dawn to dusk, while in government custody. His body was bruised, just like his nation at the time, bearing witness to the pain of silenced stories and political unrest. As of today, political corruption, weak rule of law, and human rights violations persist in the DRC.
Paulin now lives in DuPage County, and tries to leave behind those dark memories he gathered unwillingly, in order to rebuild a new, better life.
A loving father and husband, Paulin was also the goalie of the DRC’s national soccer team, nicknamed The Leopards. Paulin used to work at General Motors as a technician until he lost his job for unexplained reasons.
Paulin’s problems began when he started to speak freely in a country which called itself “democratic.”
“This country belongs to everybody, even me,” Paulin said, trying to explain why he decided to go to the soccer game one day, despite the constant danger of attending large public gatherings — terrorist acts were all too common. For Paulin, attending the soccer game meant fighting for his freedom. His wife tried to stop him, but he was stubborn — nothing could hinder him from supporting his people.
A few minutes into the game, some government officials began randomly shooting. “Something hit my head and I fell down,” Paulin recalled, unable to remember any more. Maybe if he knew about what awaited him that day, he would never had attended the game. Paulin was not a politician, but the men knew who he was and intended to hurt him.
Two days later, his family was still looking for him. Paulin’s wife, carrying their three-year-old son, went door to door, screaming her husband’s name desperately. Unfortunately, the same soldiers who kidnapped her husband found her and kidnapped her also.
Paulin saw his wife beaten and raped while he was unable to move. Seeing her naked, thrown on the ground, he said, “I feel like I died, I was handcuffed and couldn’t do anything; all I was seeing was blood.”
They were both thrown in a van, their destination withheld from them. “My wife wasn’t talking, I (thought) my wife was dead,” Paulin explained. What kept him sane was the power of prayer. “I was praying, I didn’t know who would come to save me.” But praying did not calm down the soldiers who, even after hearing a voice coming from bloodied body, would keep on beating it. Staying in Congo meant death for Paulin, but leaving the country with a family seemed impossible.
The violence and fettered freedom of expression are a simple reality in Congo. “This is something I have seen with my own eyes,” Paulin said. After almost losing his family, seeing his brother’s death and his family’s dignity ruined, he was able to move his family to Nigeria where they resided for a few years in refugee camps.
While in Nigeria, Paulin survived two Boko Haram attacks before legally moving to the U.S. Today, Paulin and his family are in better hands. World Relief is one of their most important supports. The family even has “American parents” who care and love them. “I am now free,” Paulin jubilantly expressed.

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