Feeling valued: An African refugee playing a vital role in his new community

From the April/May 2018 issue of Dementia together magazine, we hear from a man from the Democratic Republic of the Congo volunteering for Alzheimer's Society.

A volunteer from Africa plays a vital role in his new community

Elie Ngoyi left the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013.

Alzheimer's Society volunteer Elie Ngoyi came to England in September 2013, after leaving the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa for his own safety.

Speaking out

'I raised awareness of women's rights and spoke out against sexual violence,' says Elie, a doctor who specialised in sexual and reproductive health.

'I also spoke out against corruption committed by officials and people in government, so I was in trouble.

'I was fleeing persecution because of my political opinions and seeking a safe sanctuary.'

The recent history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo includes two devastating wars among other hostilities.

Elie worked in a conflict zone hospital and was also a doctor for CARE International, a charity that fights poverty and injustice.

Trust and belief

Elie, aged 45, now lives in Thornaby-on-Tees in the north-east of England, where he is studying towards being able to practise as a doctor in the UK.

He volunteers for Alzheimer's Society as a Dementia Advisor Volunteer, also attending dementia cafés and awareness-raising events.

'While in the process of my asylum application I wanted to make a contribution to the community,' he says.

'I am making a contribution to people's lives - that's important to me,' says Elie.

'I provide information and advice to people about diagnosis, symptoms, how to cope with out-of-character behaviour, finances, employment and what kind of services they can get.'

Elie has gained a lot from his volunteering. 'I feel personal satisfaction and a feeling of wellbeing,' he says.

'I'm not working as a doctor yet, but I am making a contribution to people's lives. That's important to me - I feel valuable.

'I have found an opportunity to share my experiences and learn more about people with dementia. They have inspired me a lot.

'When someone is living with dementia, it's also about their family,' he says. 'When you build a relationship with them, it's one of trust and belief.'

Elie (pictured above with service users Olive and Roy Hufford) says his Society colleagues have become like family to him.

'We have one thing in common, we are united against dementia - that's in our genes,' he says.

Overlooked and misunderstood

According to Elie, dementia is largely overlooked and misunderstood in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

'Unfortunately, it's really different in my country,' he says.'Dementia is just ignored by the majority of people. Because of political corruption, the health system doesn't work properly, so some illnesses are prioritised.

'Some religious people also accuse those with dementia of being affected by a spirit problem. They don't understand that the person needs support. It's ignorance.

'It should be the same as here in the UK - for all of Africa and everywhere.'

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