Madeleine Rwasa is over 70 years old. She fled Burundi after the unrest caused in 2015 by President Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term of office. Like around 50,000 other Burundians, she lives in the Mahama refugee camp in eastern Rwanda near the Tanzanian border. Madeleine Rwasa is alone. Her three grandchildren have abandoned her. Hunger sometimes makes her feel dizzy. Like so many others, only manages to survive thanks to the assistance provided by Caritas Rwanda.
The camp which stretches as far as the eye can see. Since May 2015, Caritas has been helping the most vulnerable. They number more than 7,000 people, including the sick, the mentally and physically disabled, single mothers, women alone, nursing women, children, the elderly and refugees who have been traumatised.
The situation in Burundi is not reassuring. It’s impossible to imagine the refugees returning in the near future. Torture, kidnappings and forced disappearances punctuate the everyday lives of Burundians. Rachel Felgines, the Caritas Internationalis emergency project manager, said, “The severe food insecurity on top of the political, social and economic crisis affecting the country is driving more and more Burundians into neighbouring countries.”
No way can they be abandoned!
So Caritas Rwanda is launching an emergency appeal; the cost of extending its activities for another year is estimated to be just over €600,000.
A great deal has been achieved in the Mahama camp in two years. Semi-permanent housing has replaced the thousands of tents put in place by the UN. Small vegetable gardens have sprung up here and there among the mud and brick houses. Caritas Rwanda is also striving to meet needs that are not taken into account by the other NGOs. For example, it has distributed underwear to women and girls.
Moreover, the food aid distributed by UN organisations primarily consists of corn kernels and dry beans, which is not suitable for many vulnerable refugees, like Madeleine Rwasa, who have specific needs. Without the intervention of Caritas, which distributes Sosoma enriched flour to them, as well as fresh and cooked food, these categories of people would starve.
Another area of action is psycho-social support, which benefits around 500 victims of violence and all types of trauma. Caritas Rwanda staff also participate in reforestation activities that were initiated by an NGO. Indeed, setting up the Mahama camp led to substantial deforestation, which increases erosion risks.
Beyond emergency aid
As the crisis in Burundi continues and the Burundians’ exile risks being prolonged, from now on Caritas Rwanda wishes to focus more on activities that can help the refugees take charge of their own lives and become independent. The idea is to give them more support in organising and managing income-generating activities, create community saving and loan groups for women, and set up kitchen gardens for growing vegetables to improve households’ everyday nutrition.
Rachel Felgines, who visited the camp in January 2017, says “that an agronomist will be involved throughout the duration of this activity”. Thanks to pooling their subscriptions, women have already managed to open a shop that sells beans, rice, charcoal, maize and cooking oil.
Caritas Rwanda supports around thirty volunteers selected from among the refugees who have been trained, notably in active listening. They include a doctor, a hairdresser, teachers, farmers and IT specialists.
Some of the beneficiaries don’t hesitate to say that they might well die if Caritas Rwanda were to stop providing assistance. The quality of welcome, the charitable attitude, and the efforts to resolve conflicts and give back hope and joy are also highly appreciated.