Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

Old Fears Don't Die; the Most Interesting Person I Know with Stephanie Hunt

Newspaper article Coffs Coast Advocate (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

Old Fears Don't Die; the Most Interesting Person I Know with Stephanie Hunt

Article excerpt

KOMLA greets me at the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre with a shy smile and a firm handshake. When our interview begins he seems guarded and wants to know where his profile will be published. "Not on Facebook," he declares when I explain that his story will be published on a website and a Facebook page. "What is he afraid of?" I wonder.

As it turns out, Komla's fears began in the early '90s in his homeland Togo. This narrow strip of land on the West African coast was embroiled in a desperate struggle between an iron-fisted dictator and opposition supporters. In January 1993 the military went on an eight-hour rampage in the capital city Lome, firing indiscriminately and killing innocent civilians. More than 300,000 people fled in fear for their lives. Komla was amongst them.

"If you were from my ethnic group you couldn't live in Togo. The soldiers would kill you," he recalls. And so a 26-year-old Komla fled the university where he was studying for his bachelor degree, walking the short distance into neighbouring Ghana. He began life as a refugee, never to return to the country of his birth.

The Catholic Church and the Ghanaian government provided support and Komla worked in a high school, teaching philosophy and physics. A year later, when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced scholarships for refugees, Komla's hand shot up. By March 1994 he was studying for his Masters in Sociology at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

For the next 17 years Komla lived in Burkina Faso. He studied, worked, met his wife Alimata, and had three children. But he remained always a refugee, a man without a country.

On completing his Masters degree Komla worked as an education research assistant with NGOs and research institutions. In 2007 he took a position with the Foundation for Community Development, responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of community schools for disadvantaged children.

Komla loved working with the community schools, revelling in the social interaction and the opportunity to make a difference. "When you are working with communities you feel that you are useful," he says. …

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