A Father’s Journey to Freedom
Last year, our Guardian Society was lucky enough to hear Balthazar’s account of his, and his family’s, journey to freedom during his speech at our annual Guardian Society breakfast. His journey from oppression to freedom, here in Lansing, is a powerful one and needed to be shared again.
Balthazar’s Journey to Freedom
My name is Balthazar, I am from Burundi and my family’s flight to safety began in 1993. I was an engineer at a television station and my new bride Alphonsine was at University studying to be a pharmacist. After the first democratically elected President was murdered we knew that we had to find a safe place to live.
That journey would take us over 10 years before our little family arrived in Lansing, Michigan.
Our first stop would be the Congo where life was not easy, there was no good hospital and no safe water. We stayed for three years. In 1996, there was more civil unrest in the Congo and we decided to flee to Tanzania.
By that time Alphonsine and I had a son. We carried him in our arms as we waded out to a small fishing boat with a chain of even smaller boats and dinghies tied together. This would be our transportation across the lake to safety… it took over 15 hours. We left under cover of darkness and were terrified as gun shots rang out over our heads.
In Tanzania we were among the first to come to a refugee camp which grew to over 40,000 people. Every family, regardless of their size had a small tent for shelter and were given a 6 meter plot in front of the tent to grow food. Being in a refugee camp provides some safety but it is also like a prison. There is no leaving to go to the city and it is difficult to improve your life in any way.
We stayed in the refugee camp for three years. By this time we had a baby girl and our son was going to school under a tree in the camp. But we knew that we could not stay there forever and made our way to Zambia hoping it would be better. Ultimately we had to break up the family… with the help of a friend in England I went there to work and Alphonsine and the children made it to the US in 2004.
I was very excited, happy and thankful when I heard that my wife and children were finally in USA, in a safe place. I was able to join them in 2006.
My family and I are so grateful to have had the chance to carry out our lives and to help others. We are clearly blessed by God and so we continue to do his work. I am proud of my family and all that we have been able to offer St Vincent’s.
I am especially proud of my son Arnaud. The baby that I once carried across that dangerous passage is now a man, a compassionate, intelligent, amazing man that is also helping others. His presence fills my heart and I am happy to share him with you this morning.