Martine Edjuku was born into a country in conflict. The Democratic Republic of Congo had been in political crisis for decades, something that came
Martine Edjuku was born into a country in conflict.
The Democratic Republic of Congo had been in political crisis for decades, something that came into sharp focus for her once Ms. Edjuku reached high school. As the conflict intensified, teachers were not paid and schools closed.
Ms. Edjuku and fellow students took up a collection to cover the transportation costs and a small salary just to get teachers to school, and classes were able to resume.
“We tried to fight the system,” Ms. Edjuku said.
Her leadership came at a personal cost when she went to college.
At a church gathering, the local police forced her and a group of students to take off matching T-shirts that supported Catherine Nzuzi wa Mbombo, the leader of Ms. Edjuku’s political party and a vice-presidential candidate.
“They started beating us, they ripped off our shirts,” Ms. Edjuku said. When the police asked who the group’s leader was, one student pointed to Ms. Edjuku.
Afterward, Ms. Edjuku, now 42, said she became a target of attacks by unknown assailants.
“I experienced many things I don’t want to go over again,” she recalled in her Harlem apartment last month. “It was not easy. That led me to be here.”
Ms. Edjuku first came to New York in 2005 as a delegate to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.
But when it was time to return home to the Democratic Republic of Congo, she was advised by family members and colleagues back home not to return for her safety. Elections were coming, and the political crisis was too severe.
Ms. Edjuku chose to claim asylum and stay in the United States. Her request was approved a year later, and in 2013, she became an American citizen.
She had left behind a country in turmoil and avoided threats to her own life. But she had also left a large, close family with some 60 cousins. “We don’t call each other cousins, we call each other brother and sister,” she said. “In the bottom of my heart, I know that we love each other.”
In her homeland, Ms. Edjuku studied French linguistics in college. But once again, conflict interfered with her education; it took her 10 years to earn her degree instead of five, she said.
A university professor of Ms. Edjuku’s recruited her into a political faction that supported better education policies and rejuvenating cities.
Her activism grew during her studies, and she eventually joined the staff of the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Affairs while she was still in school. Ms. Edjuku registered nongovernmental organizations trying to help ease the humanitarian crisis in the eastern part of the country.
“I love to help people, I love to be in a group of people and get them what they want,” she said. “I really love to do that.”
After seeking asylum in the United States, Ms. Edjuku spent her first year living with relatives in New Jersey while undergoing counseling at Bellevue Hospital’s program for survivors of torture.