HOME IN PORTUGAL (part 3): Re-learning the concept of joy after unspeakable horrors
Note: This is the final in a three-day series of videos featuring Fuller Center homeowner partner families in Braga, Portugal. They will soon be living with other families in a six-unit complex — including two other refugee families from Syria (story here) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (story here).
ADVISORY: Some of the details in the following story and video are disturbing.
Nadege Ilick says that when girls of her village in Cameroon began to show signs of puberty, they were required to marry. Her father had no choice. The man who chose her as his bride was 35.
She was 12.
She would go on to have two children with him before he died. As tradition required, she was then handed off in marriage to her late husband’s youngest brother. When the second husband died, she was ordered to marry yet another brother. She couldn’t stand the thought and begged the family for permission to leave.
They allowed it under one condition — that she sleep with the corpse of her second husband for three days. Her parents did not want her to leave and pleaded with her not to do it, but she thought freedom would be worth it.
From there, she fled to an Anglophone region despite its being mired in an armed rebellion against the Cameroon government. She was told that as a French speaker, she had better leave the area or be killed. She was essentially dumped in Algeria, where she fell into indentured servitude.
Despite her situation, she met her current husband, Frank Tchonko, and became pregnant. He had fled the civil war in Cameroon after his father died.
“War is something impossible to understand for someone who hasn’t experienced it,” Frank says. “If you haven’t seen your brother fall, you can’t understand what it is like. I saw brothers, sisters, parents, all of them innocent, perish to the guns of that separatist movement.”
Frank worked to free Nadege from the home where she served, but the person who claimed her sent thugs after them, so they fled to a friend’s home in Libya. While Frank was at work, a group broke into the home, robbing it and taking all of the women to a prison where they were held for ransom. Frank worked feverishly to earn the ransom money, but it took seven months.
In the meantime, Nadege was beaten and tortured despite being pregnant. Then, she was brutally raped by two men, sending her into an early labor. A near-riot by supportive inmates finally got her to a hospital, where her life was saved and the baby delivered. Her son would spend the first two and a half months of his life with his mother in solitary confinement with no mattress, nor a bed.
And that’s all before they boarded a loaded refugee boat and a new set of horrors.
Today, the family is in Braga, Portugal, where they are rebuilding their lives and working alongside Fuller Center for Housing volunteers to build a new home.
This is their story (enable closed-captioning):