RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The nightmares have gone. But the memories remain. Yolande Mabika remembers running for her life when rebels attacked her home in Bukavu, in eastern Congo, more than 20 years ago. She was eight. That was the last time she saw her family. They had scattered in other directions.
Fresh from competing in judo at the Olympics, as a member of the first-ever refugee team, Yolande, now almost 29, thinks she may have finally turned the page on the past.
“I still think of Congo, but less and less – it is in the past for me now and I no longer think of my family all the time. The memories are there, but the pain has gone. I have accepted I won’t see them again,” she told UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in an interview.
“I no longer think of my family all the time.”
Yolande was eventually picked up by a military helicopter, taken to the capital, Kinshasa, and placed in a refuge for abandoned children and orphans. There, she cried a lot at first.
Then, she started judo as a form of therapy. It changed her life. She says she developed a “strong heart.” She also began the long journey that ended at this month’s Rio games.
If that chapter of her life is now finally over, then it will be, for her, the most important legacy of these Games.
“Brazil is my home now and I want to stay here and build a new life… I would like to work with young girls like me who had no luck, and help them overcome the same type of problems I have had,” she explained.