This is the life story of Benjamin Munanira. I met Benjamin during my first day as an ESL volunteer teacher for refugees in the Des Moines area at Lutheran Services of Iowa.I was sitting in our first training session, and a man who radiated happiness from his kind and open heart walked in the room. He introduced himself as Benjamin, an employee at LSI and a former refugee himself. Benjamin walked around to meet each person individually, taking time to learn their names and a leaving a little piece of himself with each person. I have been friends with Benjamin ever since, and it is difficult to verbalize the impact he has made on me and every other person he comes into contact with.
Benjamin Munanira was born in Congo in a small village with no roads, no health clinic, and no secondary school. He walked great distances each day to get to school, and worked on his father’s farm in the evenings. It was a simple life, but it wasn’t easy. Benjamin worked hard to become a teacher, a profession he truly loved. When the war hit Congo, Benjamin lost everything he knew. He was separated with his wife, Odette, and two children for 10 years. In a horrific massacre, he lost two children, his mother, his sister, and his brother’s wife and four children in one day. Benjamin fled his village and lived in a refugee camp for one year before joining the president’s cabinet in Congo. Wanting to get justice for his people but finding no support, Benjamin faced enduring opposition when trying to change the system of governance in Congo. His actions led to him being jailed as a political prisoner. After 61 grueling days, the E.U. Human Rights organization took him into custody, and he moved to Denmark as a refugee with his son. There, he fought with learning a new culture and language, and also faced racism and discrimination. After 10 years apart, Benjamin was given notice that his wife had survived the war with two of the four children she had originally left with. After years of fighting with immigration processes, Benjamin finally moved to Des Moines and was reunited with his family. He has established a successful and happy life here, integrating into the community through church and refereeing soccer. Benjamin now works at Lutheran Services of Iowa, helping refugees create their own new beginnings.
Benjamin has lived through tragedy, but he is hopeful. He has faced unending adversity, but he is resilient. Despite the hardships in his life, Benjamin is kind, open, and always laughing. I have done my best to capture his ingenuity and capacity for love, and many of the words recorded here are his. More than anything, this is a tribute to the incredible life of Benjamin Munanira.