CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 11. . . .November 13, 2015
Stay Strong: A Musician’s Journey From Congo. (Arrivals; 1).
Richmond Hill, ON: Clockwise Press, 2015.
141 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $12.95 (pbk.), $8.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-0-993939351-2-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-993939351-3-8 (ebook).
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Val Ken Lem.
The hope they felt as they crossed the border into Rwanda for a better life had started to fade as fear once again crept into their lives. Even though the genocide in Rwanda had ended, there were still kidnappings and killings of members of the Tutsi and Banyamulenge tribes. And on top of that, there were landmines left over from the civil war hiding everywhere. The walk to school could be deadly. There were no proper roads or sidewalks to make a safe path to get anywhere. Gentil wasn’t sure from day to day which classmates would be there—some didn’t make it home the day before. He wasn’t sure if he’d make it home, either.
As a child aged six, Gentil Misigaro was “already used to running into the bush to hide whenever the army would descend on his village” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ethnic violence against his tribe by rebels and the national army endangered his family’s lives. Escape to the neighbouring country, Rwanda, involved almost a week of walking and an uncomfortable van ride with unplanned stops where soldiers demanded bribes in order to allow them to approach the border where more bribes had to be paid. At a UN operated refugee camp, Gentil, his brother, mother and two uncles were reunited with Gentil’s father who had left before them to prepare for their arrival. After they settled in the city of Kigali, threats forced them to relocate to a safer part of Rwanda.
Gentil’s story is unique, and yet aspects of his biography are common to refugees forced to flee from wars, civil strife, persecution and risks to life and liberty. Fleeing with literally the clothes on your back, a few possessions that you could carry and what money you could make by selling assets if you had time to do so before taking flight are common tales. In Gentil’s case, every time his family relocated, he had to get used to a new school and endure bullying by kids who often didn’t welcome the outsider in their midst. After 10 years, the situation in the Congo had improved to the point that the family decided to return home. However, renewed conflict between the Congolese army and rebels made it very dangerous for teenagers like Gentil and his young uncle Fred who were prime candidates for kidnapping and forced recruitment into one military force or another. This time, violence in Rwanda made a return there unwise. Gentil and Fred sought refuge in Uganda, a country where the official language is English unlike the Congo and Rwanda where French is commonly used.
Stay Strong is the first volume in the “Arrivals” series that presents true stories of immigrants to Canada and celebrates the skills, knowledge and talents that they bring with them and develop further in this country. In Gentil’s case, one of his talents and life-long passions is music. Originally skilled in playing the guitar by ear, he learned to play the keyboard in Uganda and taught himself to sing. He also began to produce music for other musicians. He studied music at university in Kampala, Uganda, for two years before the family was approved by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as refugees unable to return to their homeland and accepted for resettlement in a safe land. The family arrived in Winnipeg during the winter of 2010, and settlement workers helped them find connections with the Francophone community of Winnipeg—a welcome bridge for the older members of the family who were more competent in French than English.
In Winnipeg, music became central to Gentil’s acculturation in his new home. Hyde recounts Gentil’s growing success as a musician and producer and his determination to use music to inspire hope and confidence in others. His mentorship of at-risk youth and establishment of the non-profit organization A Better World Movement contributed to his recognition in 2014 as one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants. He continues to strive to give and share with others--something that is core to the community values that he grew up with. Like many performers, he has modified his name for performance purposes. On his website http://gentil.ca/ and on a YouTube video, he uses the name Gentil Mis.
Clockwise Press is committed to producing works featuring themes of diversity, inclusion and global awareness, and Stay Strong certainly nails all three. Their first four titles feature a dyslexia-friendly font. The font uses minimal serifs and is printed in dark grey rather than black ink that made it more challenging to read and less appealing to this reader. Other design choices may reflect an approach to restrain costs while providing a text free of distractions such as side bars and photographs scattered throughout the work as is common with many current juvenile book projects. Stay Strong includes two pages of b&w photographs in the center of the book and situates additional resources at the end, including maps, a helpful timeline, and resources including URLs for Gentil, age-appropriate books and websites about conflicts in the Congo and Rwanda. “How Kids Can Help” provides URLs and brief summaries about six initiatives that offer youths opportunities to volunteer and develop new skills. An index is included.
Stay Strong is an affordable biography that touches upon many important topics. Gentil Mis emerges as a caring young man who overcame challenges and consistently made the most of opportunities that arose. His story should appeal to immigrant teens who want to read about people like themselves and to socially concerned youth who want to understand better the plight of refugees and what they can do to help others.
Val Ken Lem is an arts and humanities liaison librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, ON.
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