Freedom from Torture - "Childhood, then and now" - a poem by a DRC torture survivor

"Childhood, then and now" - a poem by a DRC torture survivor

Joy, a member of Write To Life, reflects life in the Democratic Republic of Congo vs life in the UK in this poem.

Write to Life is a powerful form of activism supporting survivors of torture to rediscover their voice through poetry and performance. Like Joy, members write about memories of countries they were forced to flee and challenges they face as they adjust to life in the UK.

Childhood, then and now by Joy

When I was a child, we were not rich, we were not poor.

My father worked in government, in an office. My mother was at home with us.

I liked reading; my favourite stories were about the ups and downs of family life; when you’re up, don’t think it’s forever, maybe tomorrow it will all change. I learned so much about how life is and what you might face; I loved it.

I had eight sisters and a brother; I was the second to last. We were a big happy family; on weekends or on holidays we would go to our farm, barefoot for two hours in the hot sun, not minding if it burned our feet. We’d play in the stream and watch the work; we’d pick cassava leaves, mangoes, avocadoes, oranges, bananas, plantains and guavas… so many trees. We could pick whatever we needed to eat, and cook it over a fire.

And then it was six o’clock, the sun was setting, and my Mum and Dad would say, ‘Listen – do you hear that bird? Do you understand what it’s saying?’ And they’d make up a song with funny words, that sounded just like the birdsong.

Or if there was a rainbow,  they would say, ‘Don’t go in the water, because that coloured snake has hid head in the water.’

We didn’t need clocks; we could see when the sun was setting that it was time to go home.


Then it began to change. I was married by then. My husband, in turn was working for the government. And he noticed that while the big bosses were being paid, other people: ordinary office workers, cleaners – were getting nothing. What would they do for school fees, for doctors’ fees? My husband couldn’t stay silent. The country was no longer the united country, everybody together, of the previous regime. They started dividing the country up, making segregated areas that you needed a visa to visit.

Other people protested, and they died. They knew it could happen; but they spoke out anyway. So did my husband. And so he is no longer alive.


And now I too am a parent, here on my own. I had three children, twins who are now twenty, and a seventeen year old; I don’t know where they are. And now I have two more. And my children have a different life.

There, if you didn’t have money, you couldn’t go to school. With ten children, even we couldn’t go sometimes. My children’s school is free, they love playing on the computer, they have music and singing, toys to play with and a playground.

In my country, if you got sick and had no money, the doctor wouldn’t come. The hospitals didn’t have the equipment or medicines they needed. Here, the hospital is free; they make sure you get the right treatment.

In my country, if you did something wrong, you might be beaten. Children here answer their parents back – we didn’t even do that to our older sisters. There, even somebody else’s parent might beat you if you did the wrong thing. Here – you can’t imagine that happening.


But one thing hasn’t changed: even here, even now, I don’t feel safe. My status has to be reviewed next March; anything could happen. Every time I think about it, it makes me scared.

But my children don’t know. They’re not scared, as I wasn’t scared as a child. They know nothing of how I came to be here. But I know one day they will start to ask questions I can’t answer.

Meanwhile, home is where my children are. I am trying to be a good parent in turn. I’ve made them a home where they feel safe. They have what they need.

I’m trying to give them all I can. I’m trying.



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