He had a life of comfort and security. Then, one night, it was all taken from him and he was plunged into a nightmare. But on the other end of an unthinkable ordeal was a school on a New Hampshire mountaintop–and the hope for a new future.

Note: The names in this story have been changed.

The three figures ran desperately through the jungle. Sweat soaked through their clothes as they trampled foliage underfoot.  Hearts racing, legs churning, adrenaline pumping in abject fear, they fled. Exhausted to the point of collapse after six months of forced labor and untold horrors perpetrated against them and their family, they summoned the last remaining vestiges of endurance for one final push towards freedom.

From behind them, the gunfire still rang out; their captors had spent the last few months ravaging villages across the Congo countryside and had run into armed resistance at this most recent stop. This unforeseen exchange of violence had provided a glimmer of opportunity; the men had been distracted, so it was time to run.

So that’s what the man and his son and his nephew did. They took off into the bush, with no destination, no direction, no strategy, driven only by the instinct to survive. The bullets cut through the canopy, ripping up the vegetation around them. Death was on their heels.

Sam omits much from his days in the Congo. If you were to prod him for more on his story, he withdraws. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to read what’s behind his eyes: these are things I don’t want to revisit.

His is a story almost beyond belief, something you’d more likely read about in a novel or a screenplay. He used to be a prince. An actual prince of an East Congo province, whose family—the Royal Family—has ruled for generations.

Then, one night, his entire family, all 10 of them, were kidnapped from their beds at gunpoint. It was a coup. And over the course of 24 hours, Sam lost his wife and all of his sisters. Just like that. The rest of the family splintered, whisked away to God knows where, leaving only Sam, his nephew and his son. They were marched through the jungle with automatic weapons at their backs. Every night, their captors would come to them and say, “Tomorrow we are going to kill you.”

One day, their party came across a village and a firefight erupted. Sam saw his opportunity within the chaos.

Go! Go! Run into the bush!” he cried out to his son and nephew.

Together, hands clutched, they ran. Stray bullets pursued them as they cut through the dense underbrush but, eventually—miraculously—they put enough distance between them and the pursuing gunfire; they had escaped.

Go! Go! Run into the bush!” he cried out to his son and nephew.

They walked through the bush for four days, sleeping outside with one eye open, subsisting on whatever fruit they could find. By sheer fortune they stumbled into a village, where they met a Christian missionary who offered food, clothes, and money to pay a driver who hid them in his truck on the way to Kenya.

Once across the border, and safe at a United Nations outpost designated to support refugees from the Congo, Sam met a Catholic priest who found a job for him: counseling. Following rigorous coursework and a successful completion of his exam, Sam began a three-year job offering counseling services, primarily to children and other refugees from the Congo who were suffering from mental health issues like PTSD.

Then, in 2013, he learned that his application for refugee status to the United States had been approved and he was off to Manchester, New Hampshire, his nephew and son by his side. He would later discover a job opportunity for a residential counselor at Crotched Mountain School, which he applied for, received, and began in May 2016.

Sam still works at the school, supporting students with disabilities and helping them achieve maximum independence. His extensive counseling experience has been a major plus for his work with the students, as he’s been able to call upon his training to solidify the bonds with his students. This job is, as he sees it, the apt continuation of a career he kicked off five years ago.

Sam is a quiet, amiable man, quick to smile and soft-spoken. Few people know the madness he fled nearly a decade ago. Today, he lives with his son and nephew in Manchester, the three of them bound together by a connection few people on the planet will ever be able to understand.

And though he has kept many of the details of his past hidden from view, when it comes to the present, Sam offers a few simple words that, really, say it all:

“I feel happy,” he says. “My life is safe. My work is good.”


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