Resilience. It’s the word of the hour.
Months into the coronavirus pandemic, many people are wondering: How do you find the strength to keep going when everything seems bleak?
Manyang Reath Kher, a Sudanese refugee now living in the U.S., shares his moment of deepest despair — and how he pulled through.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
So how do you keep going when everything around you seems bleak? Months into a pandemic that gets more worrying by the day, it’s a question that many of us are feeling if not asking. NPR’s Malaka Gharib wondered how people who’ve endured great hardship got through their most difficult times and what advice they might have for the rest of us now.
MALAKA GHARIB, BYLINE: Thirty-one-year-old Manyang Reath Kher is originally from Sudan. He is what was once called a Lost Boy, a name given to children whose families were killed or went missing during Sudan’s civil war. When Kher was 3 years old, he was forced to flee his village with his uncle.
MANYANG REATH KHER: Along the way, we crossed a river, and my uncle was shot.
GHARIB: That uncle was the only family member he had, and Kher would never see his parents for the remainder of his childhood. At the refugee camp, he lived with other Lost Boys, and he said he often missed his family. But when he was 6 years old, things got even worse. Kher was bitten by a snake. He said it was like someone putting hot water on his hand.
KHER: But it just kept hot and hot and hot and hot and hot and hot.
GHARIB: Eventually, aid workers took him to a U.N. hospital near the camp.
KHER: You think you’re going to die because you hear about a lot of children dying in a camp.
GHARIB: This, he says, was his moment of deepest despair. And he kept wondering, why did he have to suffer?
KHER: I didn’t kill anyone. I didn’t do anything to anyone. Why would it be me?
GHARIB: Still, there were two things that kept him going.
KHER: I always thought that my parents going to come. You know, I had to hope that my parent would come and come get me from the hospital. We’re going to come and get you, you know.
GHARIB: The second was a saying he often heard at the camps in Ethiopia.
KHER: The rain will stop eventually, and you will see a sunlight.
GHARIB: And eventually, he did. Kher now lives in Richmond, Va., and owns a company called 734 coffee which benefits refugees.
Others who have endured incredible hardship relied on different approaches. Mohamed Soltan is a 32-year-old Egyptian American human rights advocate. He spent most of his life in the Midwest, but after college, he moved to Egypt. In 2013, there was a military coup. And Soltan got caught up in the protests and started tweeting what he was seeing. Before he knew it, he was thrown in jail, beaten, tortured and put into solitary confinement. Things got so bad, he went on a hunger strike. One day, after a long stretch of isolation, a doctor came in to check on him.
MOHAMED SOLTAN: He came into my cell, and then he kicked out the state security people that usually are the ones that are, like, torturing. And he just asked me how I’m doing. And it was like – it wasn’t just him asking me how I’m doing. It was him kicking out the guys that usually tortured me to give me like that safe space, like, him understanding, him being empathetic. It’s small acts of kindness that remind you that, like, it’s not all gloomy. It’s not all bad.
GHARIB: He says those small acts of kindness is what he held on to in his darkest moments. He calls them bursts of hope.
SOLTAN: Because I can tell you right now, like, when you’re in a very, very, very dark room, you don’t need a lot of light to illuminate that darkness.
GHARIB: Under lockdown in Fairfax, Va., Soltan wants people to know that just like everyone else, he too is grappling with the uncertainty of the pandemic. So just like he did at that cell in Egypt, he searches for those bursts of hope to pick himself back up again.
For Sifa Ndusha, she found that hope in her children. Ndusha she is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She’s a rape survivor. And in 2008, she was living with her three children and four younger siblings at a refugee camp in Uganda. She was haunted by horrible images of war – people fighting, people dying. She says she kept having seizures. Finally, she went to the hospital. The doctor scanned her brain and told her she had PTSD. She knew she wouldn’t be able to provide for her family, and that broke her.
SIFA NDUSHA: I lost all hope. I can’t get any job at all. I’m nothing. I can’t provide anything for my children because I am by myself.
GHARIB: While still recovering at the hospital, her 12-year-old son came to her.
NDUSHA: Mom, you know that I only have you. I don’t have a dad. I have never see my dad. So I only have you. You are my dad and my mom.
GHARIB: Then she just knew.
NDUSHA: I can’t give up. I have to be there. I have to be there for them.
GHARIB: Today, Ndusha is an anti-malaria advocate for a U.N. campaign called Nothing But Nets and living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I ask her, given everything that she’s gone through, what advice would you give to people struggling with the pandemic?
NDUSHA: We shouldn’t find hope in our communities and families because we are all going through this together.
GHARIB: And, she says, we will come out of it together, too. Malaka Gharib, NPR News, Washington.
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