Read caption Photo: NRC/Ingrid Prestetun

Children at the centre

Marius Brevik|Published 29. Mar 2017
Born and raised a refugee in the Democratic Republic of Congo made Patient Mashariki’s decision easy. At 51 years old his entire professional career has been devoted to providing children with a safe environment.

“It was the only natural thing for me to do with my life. Born and raised as a refugee in a foreign country, and knowing the challenges and losses of not belonging anywhere; what else could I do with my life than to work for children that suffer from war.”

With parents displaced by civil unrest in Rwanda around 1959, Patient and his six siblings were born and raised in difficult conditions. His father worked as a teacher and later promoted as headmaster. However, he did not receive his rightful salary. Repeated efforts to claim paychecks did not help, and his family struggled financially. They could not afford school. But Patient was determined to get an education. 

“I always showed up to school, but the teachers sent me home because I had not paid school fees. I would then wait for three days or so and then get back to school. Even though they kept sending me back I kept returning until they eventually forgot about me and I managed to complete.”

A lack of money was not the only challenge for the displaced children in DR Congo. For children in a foreign country it can sometimes be hard to integrate into a new society. Patient and his family felt accepted, but only at a certain level.

“Socially it’s ok, but when it comes down to an argument, people use the fact that you are a refugee to brush you out.” 

Back in Rwanda

After the horrific genocide in 1994 he finally considered it safe to come home to Rwanda. The first thing he did when he arrived was to search for one of his brothers who went back there in 1986 to look for a job. Everyone was convinced he was killed in the genocide, but Patient had not given up hope of seeing his brother. He stopped by his former work to check if they had any information about what happened to him. Surprisingly, he found out that he had survived and had been transferred to another district for work. He managed to track him down, and was happy to find him and his family alive and well.

Passionate about helping children

Influenced by his own experience, Patient started working with a child protection programme with the Irish charity Concern Worldwide later on followed by work in other children’s charities such as Save the Children, UNICEF, and Christian Children’s Fund. He worked and travelled in various countries such as Kenya, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Chad, Somalia, Mali, Burkina Faso and Thailand.

Helping displaced children is at the heart of what Patient is passionate about, because they reminded him of life in Congo and his own experience. One of his main tasks during his career has been to reunite families displaced by war. Even after many years in the field, seeing children reunited with their parents brings out mixed feelings.

“It is very emotional and amazing to see them reunited, but then I remember the reason they got separated in the first place.”

Read caption Photo: NRC/Ingrid Prestetun

A better future

In 2014, Patient joined NRC, first on a 10-week assignment setting up a food security programme in Mali. With energy and long hours, he managed to complete the programme before the deadline. His wide experience from different contexts made him Area Manager in Burkina Faso, helping Malian refugees who fled there. From there, he was offered the position as Area Manager in Northern Mali, one of the most dangerous and challenging areas in West Africa.

Despite the difficult conditions in the country, Patient remains optimistic about the Malian people. Strong values and a united community provides hope of a better future. And Patient is determined to do whatever he can to help.

“There is always hope for a better future – it must be, and it is our mission to help this hope come true.”