Emmanuel's story: how to keep on smiling

Emmanuel's story of how he went from Uganda to Ireland and finished up in Vilnius - shocking, but truly inspiring experiences!

We have met and interviewed Emmanuel in Vilnius, Lithuania. An Irishman, born in Uganda, he was taking part in the No Hate Speech Movement here.

Can you tell me about your experiences in Uganda? What was your life like? 

It is very hard to put the experience into comprehensive sentences. It was an experience that has taught me a lot in life, lessons that only a person in that position would understand. Life was not easy, some people had lost hope, others don't want to even dream anymore and that includes me too.There were times where we genuinely don‘t know what we were going to eat the next day, there were times when you don't know if you would wake up tomorrow morning still alive in your bed. Life was seemingly meaningless to me too at times, but I am dreamer, I held onto my hope, I wanted to be someone. In fact, everyone wanted to be someone, but once you realize that your chances of being someone is almost 0%... Your self esteem and enthusiasm get crushed.

But, of course, there were some joy in all these sorrows, we did not have any phones, computers or TV or even electricity. And that allowed us to make a great use of our imagination: we made our own toys, we built things and spend a lot of time exploring the forest, which was right next to our house… There we would, hunt, play games and do sports.

Why and how did you come to Ireland? How old were you?

I was brought to Ireland by my parents who applied for resettlement through the UNHCR due to political and personal problems that posed a big threat to their lives while in the refugee camp in Uganda. I was twelve years old when I came to Ireland.

What did you think of Ireland when you first arrived? 

I knew everything was going to be different and when I first arrived my expectations were not let down. Things were different in every aspect of life, culture, and music. Even the sun was different! But on the other hand, I thought it was a peaceful and safe place. 

How did you integrate with other young people there?

I integrated with others of my age through youth clubs and youth programs that were set out to help us integrate. Such as summer camps, homework club and Friday night club, where we would hangout. 

Have you been a member of any sport team there? 

Yes, sports is one the best method of integration. It's like a universal language everyone understands. I play football and have played with a few local clubs in my county of Kilkenny. About 2 years ago we set up our own team, actually called Africa United (not only for Africans), which only played in tournaments and friendly matches against the local clubs. It was an intercultural team aiming to create good relationship between migrants and the locals.

What were some of your funny experiences in Ireland?

I have plenty of funny stories, which include people running towards a closing automatic doors in an attempt to stop them from closing. We had some people in the supermarket trying to grab fruits from the mirror because they look so much better. I have got into a wrong house because all the houses in my estate looked alike. We’ve met in Lithuania. 

What brought you here?

Passion did. My passion for working with people to create a better world and volunteering took me to Lithuania. I volunteer with an organization called Eurobug, we host Erasmus+ training courses and youth exchanges.So we were hosting activities, which aimed to train, empower and inspire people to get involved with the No Hate speech movement. It is an initiative started to combat hate speech online and offline.

So you have been working with the anti-hate speech movement in Vilnius. What exactly did you do?

 In Vilnius, we were promoting the movement. We talked to people about it and even made an appointment with the Irish ambassador, told him all about what we were doing in Lithuania and got his support. We also handed out balloons and stickers to people. My favorite part was bringing different types of happy vibes to the city. We were singing, dancing and chanting in the streets. Through this we brought smiles to people‘s faces and people were curious to know about us, because we were so open and free spirited. Some even said “we need you here, please stay!“.

What was your impression of Lithuania and the local people here? While in Vilnius where did you like to hang out?

Honestly, I think Lithuania is a beautiful place, the forests and lakes are amazing, the people are friendly too, they were really curious to talk to me. While in Vilnius, we liked to hang around the cathedral square quite a lot and I love climbing to the top of the red castle and looking at the city from atop. 

What do you like to do the most in winter? How many snowmen you've built so far?

Apart from drinking a lot of tea besides the fire and either reading or watching TV, I also love playing football. Not official matches, but just playing around my streets with my brothers and friends. There is a serious lack of snow in Ireland and I fear freezing to death, so in I believe I have only built about 3 snowmen. 

What are you doing now in Ireland and what are your plans for the future?

I am enrolled in a computer science course in one of the universities here, but putting that aside, I do a lot of voluntary work especial with Eurobug. This means managing projects, facilitating workshops, etc. and getting experience and skills required to work with people.

My plans for the future include doing something similar (volunteering and social initiatives) in Africa too. 

What are your thoughts about the refugee-crisis in general? What would you like to wish people regarding the matter? 

I can understand the people, who are against refugees. I can understand their concerns. But in the end of the day we have to do something, we have to lend a helping hand. We just can‘t leave people die, we have to offer a safe place for them. I wish people could try to understand where they are coming from, why people are leaving their homes and the hardship they had to live and go through.

If you have any questions to Emmanuel or us, make sure to ask in the comments.

2/1/2017