Sharing the Hero's Journey: Part I

Sybille Nkunzimana, Yana SlavinskaJuly 17, 2023CourageFeatures

Artwork by Eleanor Goetz

For this collaborative project, pairs of youth contributors from different locations around the world interviewed each other about their personal “hero’s journey,” and then wrote about their partner’s experience.

We all have dreams. Some of us dream of ending world hunger or sailing the seven seas.

Others have simpler dreams of frolicking in green pastures or sitting on their porches listening to the birds. Some dream specifically of acing next week’s math test.

But what if in the middle of the night, the lights came on and you were startled awake. What if, without warming, all your classes were canceled, all oceans dried out, and the green pastures you once dreamt of turned into arid planes littered with the dust of what was once your apartment building? What if, suddenly, birdsong was drowned out by gunfire, and the light streaming in through the window was not from the sun, but from flames? What would you do if everything you ever knew fell away before your very eyes?

Yana had dreams. She dreamt of learning new languages and leaving home to study abroad. She dreamt of going to Scotland and seeing the Highlands; of attending the University of Edinburgh, and of broadening her horizons and meeting new people. “I’m not dead yet but I feel as though I have died a thousand times already” Yana tells me. For the longest time, all she wanted to do was leave Ukraine. Now, all she wants to do is go home.

After months of watching her home being destroyed and falling asleep to the sound of warfare so loud, it drowned out her tears, Yana began to shut down. Poetry, with its vivid imagery and endless ambiguity became her catharsis, allowing her to spend much of her time floating from sentence to sentence, carefully selecting each word, baring her heart into every verse.

Exchanging stories with Yana about Ukraine on her part, and Haiti on mine, it became clear that our lives in our respective homelands are not dissimilar. Though on opposite sides of the world, in different time zones, with different languages and cultures, they are alike in that they are steeped in violence. Mounting political tension has resulted in gang warfare across the capital city of Haiti and too many children have had to watch their dreams vaporize with every gunshot and every scream much like the children of Ukraine.

“You never truly know how something feels until you have experienced it for yourself” Yana adds, explaining how her entire outlook on life has been irreversibly impacted by the war in her country.

Courage is defined as a person’s ability to do something that scares them. But having gone through something traumatic and living with that weight on your shoulders, courage can exist in even the smallest, most insignificant aspects of life. Courage can be in finding the strength to wake up every morning, dry your tears, and start your day. Courage can be in taking control of your trajectory despite the hardships you have faced. Yana has taught me that courage cannot exist without great effort. Courage does not always have to be about saving the day; courage can also be about finding the strength within yourself to reclaim what you have lost.

Sybille is beautiful and it’s not only about her appearance. Her beauty is courageous.

At first glance, she seems to me an ordinary teenager who is interested in literature. However, Sybille is much more. This girl is from one of the most dangerous territories of the world – Haiti. Formerly the richest colony in the Americas, Haiti has become the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The country's development was hampered by external intervention and debt, political instability and natural disasters. Sybille told me about a WhatsApp group in which people send photos of those who were killed. I know how complicated it is to look at such horrible shots as I encounter them every day in Ukraine. She described to me other criminal acts such as kidnapping. It's another thing that unites our stories. Russian troops kidnap Ukrainians in occupied territories from the 24th of February. Strangely enough, we are two girls from different corners of the Earth, but we both suffer from the same – terrorism.

Sybille shared with me one situation that happened at her home in Haiti. It was at night. Her family members were sleeping; suddenly she heard loud sounds of gunshots outside the window. I’m confident, no parent wants their kid to wake up from gunfire. Therefore, she was forced to leave her hometown and parents. Nowadays, she lives hundreds kilometers from home. What’s going on around us? Ukraine, Haiti and many other territories are being destroyed at this moment. People die every minute. Humanity suffers from humanity. It sounds unreal, but unfortunately, it’s our reality.

I saw myself in Sybille’s personality. She can’t ignore this terrorism, she wants to speak. Highlight this issue by writing. She said, “It’s hard to know that every second something terrible happens in my hometown. But the most torturous thing is to know that you can do nothing.” I understand what she feels. Sybille hasn’t had a chance to walk on the street on which she used to play games when was a child and I haven’t either. I can’t wake up in my bed and Sybille can’t either. We both are far away from home, because we aren’t safe there.

Sybille and I are two girls. From the first sight, you can say that we are completely different. However, our souls have the same pain. These are running sores, which hurt us more and more every single day. Nevertheless, we aren’t teenagers who are only suffering. Both of us are women who struggle for a better future. People who will stand for freedom and happiness of millions of human beings. We are girls who were affected by terrorists, but it didn’t break us. Instead, it has turned us into powerful women. Individuals who will do all in order to stop terrorism. It was an honor to meet Sybille Nkunzimana. A person, who gave me an understanding that courage is to have a ruined soul, but strength to move on.

Sybille Nkunzimana is a 16-year-old writer of Canadian and Rwandan origin from Haiti. She views her craft as the ultimate way to dissect her feelings on the road to discovering what they mean to her. Sybille finds that almost anything can be made clearer if it is expressed and understood to the fullest extent.

Yana Slavinska is a 17-year-old from Ukraine. She loves writing, and has been writing short fairytales and poetry since she was little.