Today on World Refugee Day, we share a first-hand account from Maneno Abel, a dedicated member of the Edesia family making the highest-quality, safest life-saving foods for millions of severely malnourished children across the world.
I was born in 1973 inside the Mishamo refugee camp in Tanzania, where my parents had fled from Burundi the year before. Growing up in the refugee camp, my siblings and I didn’t think about what it meant to be refugees. This was just where we were. In 1993, a new president was elected in the first multi-party elections for the presidency. He prioritized welcoming Burundians back home, and we returned as a family.
Back in Burundi, I remember my grandmother carried me around the whole time. She wouldn’t let me go. That time only lasted three weeks before we fled back to another refugee camp in Tanzania after the president was assassinated and another conflict began. From 1973 up until 2008, when I left for the U.S., I spent only three weeks living in my own country; the rest of those 35 years were spent in three different Tanzanian refugee camps.
In 2008, I settled in Providence, Rhode Island, and met my wife, who is also a former refugee. We love each other so much and we work hard to make plans that will change our life and create a home for our three beautiful children. We have both found jobs we love that give us pride. She earned a high school and a community college degree. She now works as a nurse.
Me, I’m proud of the food we make at Edesia. I know what refugee camps are like, and I know what it looks like to see children get sick or die of malnutrition.
In 2017, I became a U.S. citizen – it is my very first citizenship. In 2020, we bought our own home. The first time I walked into my own home, I was so happy. Where I live now is very different, but I look to my parents and memories to guide how we raise our family. I learned from them how to build strong relationships with your neighbors. I try to show my kids, like my parents showed me, that you have to respect everyone and that if you are able to help someone, you must help. You can always find the time for that.
When my brother and I left the refugee camp for the U.S. in 2008, my mother worried it was the last time she would see us. I told her, “God will open a door, we will see each other again.” I now have a plan to visit her and my father next year, and I will take my family. I can’t wait for my parents to hug their grandchildren for the first time.