Solange Ingabire, 22, writes to her mother, who raised her in the Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda after fleeing the threat of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996. Solange was born four years later in the camp. Now a student in Costa Rica remembers the incredible influence his mother had, who was an advocate for education despite not having the opportunity to study.
The letter has been edited for length and clarity.
Listen as Solange reads the letter:
UNHCR · Letter to My Mother – Solange
As I write these lines, I imagine you radiating love in camp, as you always do, about 12,000 kilometers away from you. You must be busy helping neighbors or selling potatoes and bananas from local producers.
I am excited to write this letter thanking you for the love and attention you have always shown me. Mom, you have been an amazing mother, my role model and the reason why I am today.
Education has always seemed like an unattainable goal to me, until you sat down to share with me your journey, how you struggled to get to school, how you walked miles a day until you couldn’t do it anymore.
Despite your limited education, you became an advocate of education, and when you told me I was nothing without it, I couldn’t forget that advice. You have always given me reasons to think beyond the challenges we face. The memories we share (good or bad) are my strength and my motivation for success.
I remember the two of us sleeping alone in a tent one night, and suddenly it started to rain. I remember that I was in a deep sleep, you woke me up in a calm voice and said, “Daughter, the house is full of water, it’s dripping everywhere”.
While I wait for the rain to stop, I will never forget the grace you covered with your clothes to keep me warm. It was one of the longest nights of my life. Despite the sleepless night, I was surprised to see your beautiful smile at dawn, and it taught me an important lesson to be happy and grateful under all circumstances.
My childhood is filled with memorable memories of all your stories, of teaching us hymns and Bible verses and praying for us before bed. This daily routine has made me a spiritually strong and praying warrior – it has developed the ability to sing in me.
“It was your custom to share what little you had.”
I will never forget the many faces you made me smile. You’ve often brought home, cleaned, and fed people with mental health problems. Some were your neighbors in the Congo before the war. It was your custom to share what little you had.
When I was a kid, all I wanted was the love and attention of my family, and they gave it to me beyond what I expected. But when I started growing up, “where are you from?” remained a secret. Since I never set foot on my land for a day, I began to think that I was nothing, that I was despicable, defenseless, and of course, a refugee. Thank you for encouraging me to think outside the box and focus on the impact I can make in the world. I can’t imagine what could have happened to me without your guidance.
I remember the excitement of the family when they chose me for a scholarship to study in Costa Rica, and of course not even I could believe it. I remember the joy of getting on a plane for the first time, taking off and landing. It was the most incredible feeling I’ve ever experienced.
My life in Costa Rica was a bit difficult at first because it was my first time leaving Rwanda and I was away from our family. Learning Spanish was hard, but you and the brothers made the experience fun by asking me to greet you in Spanish on our video calls and repeating the words after me.
This letter is part of a series of letters addressed to stateless or forcibly displaced persons who left a mark on the lives of young writers. If you are interested in writing a letter to a friend, relative, or refugee who inspires you, send us your idea by writing to: [email protected]
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