Raymond Addy grew up in Liberia. He remembers many things about his early years in Liberia; a life typified by traveling from one refugee camp to another and absence from his family for decades at a time. But there’s one memory that remains as a redeeming element to the torment he faced on a daily basis– the gift he received in a humble shoe box that enabled him to keep studying and be revered by his peers – a flashlight.
The flashlight led the way to a life of opportunity for Raymond who remembers having to use an oil lantern to study before going to bed at night. Raymond says the lantern was very dim at and the oil would often fall onto the books in front of him and onto his school clothes.
“We never had a continuous electricity service. It would be on for a while and then it would go out. This flashlight served a purpose. We had to study with the oil lamp, so you’d go to school the next day with oil in your books and sometimes even on your uniform.”
The Christmas shoe box also contained a pair of slippers (flip-flops) which Raymond would use to take the ‘shortcut’ to school through a river instead of getting his runners wet. The longer route didn’t involved crossing a river, but it was dangerous and surrounded by mountainous terrain, which did allow him to escape danger if he needed to. The shortcut was much safer. But, it meant he would be all wet when he arrived at school. Raymond kept his flip flops in his backpack so he could change into them before crossing the river, ensuring at least his school shoes were still dry when he arrived.
Though these gifts made attending school a bit easier, when war broke out in 1989 Raymond spent the majority of his life traveling from refugee camp to refugee camp. As soon as the conditions became bad he would move to the next one – and many milestones in his life took place around this tumultuous pattern; including graduating from high-school and raising a family.
Raymond shares about the painful journey and explains how eventually his wife was able to obtain a visa through a ‘women at risk’ program and come out to Australia with his youngest daughter, Alexandria. A few years later Raymond too was able to follow them with his teenage daughter, Winifred – who also remembers receiving a shoe box at the age of nine.
Raymond’s escape to Australia has been bittersweet, “I haven’t seen my mum since 1992.” And his daily journey brings with it memories of the reality other people around the world are facing right now. Raymond is now studying a Diploma of Welfare and Community Development at Swinburne University and hopes to go on to study Sociology. And though he feels he can specifically relate to refugees and the issues they are facing, he doesn’t want his humanitarian aid work to stop there, proposing to reach out to people from all backgrounds – “wherever people need to be served.”
And the happy endings continue; Raymond’s daughter Winifred is about to graduate high-school and is planning to study Psychology. Winifred’s first year in Australia was understandably difficult, but she was soon accepted by her peers when a song she wrote won the ‘school anthem’ competition and she is now considered a role model for other African students.
Source: OCC Australia
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