THE BLOG

How Canada Saved Me From Violence

06/21/2013 12:17 EDT | Updated 08/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Nearly 25 years ago, I walked through darkened forests and along deserted roads alongside my father, uncle and three siblings. We'd fled the war following Idi Amin's regime in Uganda. It's been estimated that Amin was responsible for the deaths of up to 400,000 people.

Before we left Kampala, Uganda's capital, it was a daily occurrence for me as a young child to see dead bodies in the street and to fall asleep to the sounds of machine guns and screams. And when my father failed to come home, I always thought that his voice was one of those screams I heard in the night.

When we left Uganda I didn't realize that it was forever. I didn't understand that I was saying my final goodbye to the country where I was born and from where my ancestors came from. I wasn't aware that I was leaving all that I identified with -- my family, friends -- and that it would take several decades for me to make peace with what I had lost.

After my family left Uganda, we lived in a refugee camp along the Kenyan border. I was told that we lived there for a couple of years until a Canadian woman named Sidney Tebbutt sponsored our family to move to London, Ontario.

Had it not been for her acting to help strangers from a country she had probably never been to, I wonder where any of us would be today. I recently spoke about the impact she had on my family in a talk I gave at TedXRyersonU, how we're all connected to one another and how each of us has the power to change another person's life.

As we acknowledge this year's World Refugee Day, with a focus on the impact that war has on families, it's important to remember that there are currently 45 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world. Imagine being forced to leave everything and in most cases everyone that you love? With no control over the outcome? No idea where your next meal will come from? The only possessions you have are your life and perhaps the clothes on your back.

My family was lucky because we were together. We were even luckier because a stranger connected to our story and decided to help us. I am so grateful to now call Canada home and even prouder to know that my son and daughter have a country to call their own.