The Long Journey South – The Story of Benhur Mwabe
Benhur (or “Ben”) Mwabe has a great story to tell – one that will make you believe in the power of hope, perseverance and that proves that you can rise above your circumstances if you really try hard. Ben is currently studying Computer Science at the University of the Western Cape – and is standing on the threshold of a great career… but this story needs some background first.
Ben was born in 1994 in the small village of Mgunga in the Masisia zone of the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (or DRC). His childhood was probably like most other boys… until the ongoing conflict / war in the DRC between the government forces and the rebels came to his village when he was 10 years old.
Ben’s father worked for the government and when rebel forces over-ran his village in 2004, he was taken captive and sent to a separate incarceration location than his father was. There he was forced to clean uniforms, wash, cook and work like a slave for the rebel soldiers – this included the preparation to become a “kadogo” or child soldier. It is hard to imagine doing this as an adult, yet alone as an impressionable 10 year old boy – the turmoil, conflict and environment would have been a scarring experience for anyone.
After a short time, Ben managed to escape from his captors, by crawling through a hole in the fence of the forest compound – and was advised not to go home to his mother, in spite of what must have been an overwhelming desire to be reunited with family – it would have been too dangerous and he might have been killed, had he been recaptured. Instead, Ben was smuggled across the border down in to Zambia, the country below the DRC. Here he linked up with a distant Uncle, who provided temporary shelter for him in Lusaka. This uncle introduced Ben to a cousin, who soon had Ben on the move again – in November 2004 they traveled south through Zimbabwe to South Africa, in the hope of a better life and a more stable environment. Ben lived in the sprawling city of Johannesburg for four years, before his cousin suggested they move the Knysna – where Ben finally could get an education. The cousin moved back to Johannesburg after a short while and left Ben to fend for himself in the shackhome they had acquired.
Now the story gets interesting. Jim and Janet Jamer had visited Knysna as tourists and had been on a tour through the township, with Penny and Ella (more on them later!) – they hailed from Ottawa, Canada, where Janet was a Vet and Jim was the office manager. So challenged were they by what they witnessed, that they decided to come back and spend three months a year in Knysna, working among the young high school boys and mentoring them – providing skill sets that would allow them to excel and provide a good future for them.
These annual visits started at three months a year and then became four months and now is at seven months a year – they have sold their practice in Canada and have purchased a home in Kynsna, allowing them more time to reach out and
mentor these young men – a process that has had amazing results. Working with groups of eight boys, they provide both scholastic support as well as teaching important life skills.
Now – Penny and Ella – the third piece in this puzzle… Penny and Ella have a tour company called Emzini Tours – whereby they take tourists through the local townships, exposing them to the reality of life in Africa for a vast majority of people – their hearts burn with a desire to impact people for the Lord and share the Gospel of hope with them – in a self-sacrificing manner that has now seen the establishment of two “safe” homes (for abused women and children), the adopting of various orphaned children, two soup kitchens, a small church and the establishment of a “Skills” center for developing local talent.
So – no surprise that Ben, with his drive and knack for survival, made it into one of Jim’s mentor groups – showing great determination to succeed. He and Jim established a relationship and Jim was keen to help him go further, once he finished High School… so much potential, so much need and so few resources…At about this time, The Khayamandi Foundation was starting to explore involvement and investment in the Knysna area and linked up with all the parties… the rest is history, as they say… with Ben now being sponsored to attend University and complete the next step in his amazing journey.
Ben carries the hope of a generation – an example of a young man that refused to give up and that, with a little help, will achieve great things!
The light of opportunity and challenge cannot be extinguished – even for a refugee from the DRC. Ben carries a quiet spirit of determination and vision – determination to complete his education and a vision to help others.