Yolande was a young child when she lost her parents, separated by fighting in her home, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All she remembers is being picked up by a helicopter, which took her to the capital city Kinshasa. There, living in a centre for displaced children, she discovered judo. “I got separated from my family and used to cry a lot. I started with judo to have a better life”, Yolande explained.
She became a professional athlete, competing in major tournaments. But in 2013, when she came to Rio to compete in the World Judo Championship, her coach confiscated her passport and limited her access to food – as he did at every competition abroad. Fed up with years of abuse, including being caged after losing tournaments, Yolande fled the hotel and wandered the streets searching for help.
Now, Yolande’s life has been transformed, after she won a place on the Refugee Olympic Team, and even a new trainer, in the form of Flavio Canto, a Brazilian Olympic bronze medallist.
She is determined to excel, to give refugees hope, and to transform her tragic life story into a happy one. “I will be part of this team and I will win a medal. I am a competitive athlete, and this is an opportunity that can change my life,” she says. “I hope my story will be an example for everybody, and perhaps my family will see me and we will reunite.