When Johanna was young, her father would leave the family and go to the Congo. When he returned, he would beat them. He wanted to kill them. One day, he brought meat. They didn’t often have meat and he could be sure everyone would eat it. He’d put poison in the food and her sister died. After that terror, Johanna, her mother and her siblings stayed near relatives who built a shelter for them. Her father stayed in the house. Johanna’s mother tried to care for the family. They had a garden and a coffee plantation but her father was the one who got the money. Johanna wanted to see her father dead for all the harm he did to them. Life was so hard she decided to move to Bujumbura. She was around 16.
She got a job as a maid and a babysitter. Because of her job, she could send money to her family who had still not escaped her father. One night, they saw ﬂames coming from his home. He wouldn’t leave the burning house and had to be taken out by force. He was taken to the hospital with burns. Johanna was still living in Bujumbura when she heard. They told her he needed clothes. She didn’t have much but she found a way to provide. When he was out of the hospital, he came to her mother’s house. He died there. Johanna didn’t get the news until after the mourning period. Not too long after that, Johanna’s mother was wounded by a piece of wood. Johanna sent money home for her mother to get treatment but she didn’t go to the hospital. She used the money for other needs.
In the city, Johanna lived with a man. They had a child together. The man died one month after their son was born. Distraught, Johanna struggled to survive. She had no real home. She used to put her baby on her back and walk around all day looking for work, a way to earn porridge for her child. At night, she would slip into places and sleep unbeknownst. She got by with help from a woman at church who assisted her with rent and medical treatment for her son who had an issue with his ears.
Eventually, Johanna decided to go up country to live with her brother. Her mother had died. Her brother didn’t want her to bring her son because he would expect to inherit land. He gave her money to take her son to his father’s family. She went to see her “in-laws” but could not bring herself to leave her son with them. Instead, she went back to where she was living in Bujumbura. “So up to now this is the life I’m living,” says Johanna. She tries to find people who need a maid or garden worker. She tries to make enough money to pay rent and feed her child.
There is woman who lives near her and attends the same church. She brought Johanna to Home Care. Johanna says when she was received, it was something wonderful to her. Her child has started nursery school. The teaching she gets at the center and the time she spends with other people strengthens her. She no longer feels like life is hopeless for her and her son. She is hopeful that once she learns to sew and starts working, she will be able to care for her child.
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