Muriel’s passing has not only shook my core but to those closest to her. This is particularly true for Quesney Buledi, and his family, who considered Muriel as their “guardian angel”. His public story of being an asylum-seeker and refugee in Thailand is well-known – less so is his more personal story of Muriel’s instrumental role in saving his life and the lives of his children. Muriel and I worked in the background to do what we could to help and never wanted to be in the spotlight. So I was very moved to read Quesney’s tribute in the January 2016 newsletter from the White Rose Group who helped him and his family settle in Canada.
This is Quesney’s tribute to Muriel in his own words.
It’s very difficult to believe that someone so special, so kind and almost perfect is no longer here to start that chat on the web or to send that text message.
I came to know Muriel soon after I arrived in Bangkok in February 2008. I arrived with nothing but a few clothes. I was destroyed – I had suffered unspeakable abuses and had no hope I could reconstitute my life. I was in the country illegally, without a passport or a visa. Like other asylum seekers, I had no rights and under the constant threat of arrest. What little money I had was gone in two days. With nowhere to sleep I sought shelter in a mosque.
I found my way from one agency to another until I met Ms Ali Collier at the Bangkok Refugee Centre (BRC). Ali realised I spoke French and introduced me to Muriel. Her smile met mine and we started to talk as if we knew each other for ages. Muriel quickly restored my lost hope. Finally, after more than four years of darkness there was a light! Someone cared and would help me. Through Muriel I met many others at Asylum Access Thailand who have remained good friends. Muriel helped me find a safe place to stay, even paying for my first rent. However, my status made it difficult to find work. Finally Muriel was successful in securing a volunteer teaching position for me and over the course of the next six years I helped many refugee children and adults maintain and improve their educational skills.
Muriel introduced me to her then fiancé Vincent Fung and he and I became very good friends. I had two people that cared for me and I considered them my new family. They introduced me to the modern world, made sure I had a safe place to stay, food to eat and activities to do. This kept my morale high. They took me to cinemas, to evening “get-togethers”, shopping malls and bought me new clothes.
They introduced me to new people who would be friends. I could never have dreamed these people would open the doors to freedom for my children and me. I now had people around me with whom I could share my pains and sorrows, people who vigorously fought for my happiness and my freedom.
When Muriel and Vincent left Thailand they ensured I was living in a secure area and that all my basic needs were met. I cannot forget that night. Vincent handed me an envelope with enough money to cover all my needs for months. I could hardly comprehend their kindness. It was difficult to say good-bye but we kept in touch through e-mail and on-line chats. She always wanted to know that I was well and safe. She sent books for me to read, she suggested movies to watch, music to listen to, she asked her friends in Bangkok to take me out, she sent others from abroad with gifts. Whenever Muriel and Vincent came back to visit Bangkok, I was always first to greet them.
Muriel helped me focus on my future rather than my past and present. It was impossible for me to study in Thailand without my papers and she knew I wanted to go back to school. To my astonishment, she paid my tuition for law school. I completed the 3-year program and became a lawyer all because of Muriel. What an angel she was!
I had been separated from my children for more than six years and could not even expect they were still alive. When they were located in 2010 and we were reunited in Bangkok, Muriel and Vincent came to welcome them. They encouraged the children and helped them to focus on the future by providing them with so many new experiences. Muriel’s confidence that we would all have a bright future never wavered.
In 2012, security became a concern throughout the refugee community in Bangkok and many people were arrested. Once again it was Muriel who took action to ensure we escaped arrest. With the help of her friend we moved to a house in a middle class neighbourhood. She reasoned that the authorities would overlook us if we weren’t living like refugees. Muriel and Vincent paid for the house until we were resettled to Canada.
Muriel and Vincent came to see us again in Bangkok in November 2013. We had wonderful time together and when it came time to say goodbye Didier, Lauraine and I could not stop the tears from flowing. Muriel hugged us and cried. We could not know it would be our very last time together.
Muriel always wanted us to be free. Today, through the efforts of Muriel, Vincent and other friends I came to know through them, we are free. When I look back over the past eight years, I can’t imagine what my life would have been if I hadn’t met Muriel. Thanks to her, I am a resident of Canada, I am working, and furthering my studies. My children are free and happy; they are going to school and see a bright future. I feel so blessed.
In our last video call, Muriel and I went through the events of past and present. She said: “I am so happy you have your life back. I am so proud of you my brother.”
Muriel and I had many dreams and it is sad she won’t be here to see them realized. We dreamed of starting schools that would educate girls in Africa, we had my books to publish, a movie of my life story to be shared with the rest of the world…
She wanted her daughter Thea to be a happy girl and wished that Didier and Lauraine could be Thea’s godparents. Muriel and Vincent had planned to visit us in Canada, introduce Thea to us, and celebrate our freedom. Mother Nature decided otherwise.
I miss Muriel very much. I will do everything I can to ensure Thea understands the great woman her mother was.
The Muriel Lauvige Foundation will be created in her memory. This nonprofit organization will pursue Muriel’s vision of educating vulnerable women and girls. I trust Muriel is happy that we will carry on her dream.