Refugee stories told at Jewish Museum
Mother who fled genocide for safety in London helps to tell refugee story
Archway resident Leah Chishugi, 36, fled Rwanda in 1994 aged 17 during the genocide that ripped apart the country, leaving behind her husband and baby son. “I fled to the Congo Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia. Losing my parents and being alone, I was really confused. I don’t know how to explain it because it was beyond my imagination. At the time, all you want is to survive.”
Chishugi is part of the World City: Refugee Stories exhibition at the Jewish Museum that tells the story of nine Londoners who came to the city as refugees from atrocities all over the world. She arrived in the UK in 1997, her son, now 19 and husband joined her afterwards. For her, the experience of fleeing the Tutsi and Hutu civil war and genocide is a strong memory, but one she wants to use positively. “It is part of your life, you can’t put it behind you. The reason I talk about it is that I don’t want my son’s generation to go through what I have been through. It’s something that you can never forget.”
In the UK she trained as a nurse before starting her own charity Everything Is A Benefit, which raises money for women whose lives have been torn apart by war in the Congo. Chishugi also recently authored a book about her experiences, A Long Way From Paradise. “I feel very lucky to have come to London. It was hard at first, I faced a lot of questions and had to find my way. I tried to make London my home, things have changed since I came and it seems harder now. But when I came and finally had a safe place to stay with my son, it was wonderful.”
The exhibition aims to draw parallels between geographically unconnected refugee experiences. Chishugi’s story is not dissimilar to that of European Jews fleeing Hitler in the 1930s.
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“Genocides keep repeating, in the 40s, 50s, 70s, 90s and it is still going on,” she says.
“It is something that we can’t forget. If we don’t talk about how much war affects communities, it will forever repeat. I’m proud to be a part of the exhibition.”
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W World City: Refugee Stories runs until September 16 at the Jewish Museum in Albert Street, Camden Town.