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Congolese refugee in Kenya determined to show he is not helpless

Telling the Human Story, 12 August 2013

© UNHCR/D.Mwancha
Amani Kishonge Ruhimbana in the office he uses as compound management assistant, one of the jobs he has undertaken as he seeks to improve his life.

DADAAB, Kenya, Aug 12 (UNHCR) Entrepreneur, French teacher, community development worker Amani Kishonge Ruhimbana is proof that living in a refugee camp does not automatically mean an idle, helpless life.

"There is often a bad image created out there about refugee camps," said the refugee in his mid-20s who fled conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2007. "The usual general view by many outsiders is perhaps that a refugee camp is a densely populated place with a multitude of idle people not capable of making a living.

"Many fail to see the obvious fact that a refugee is just like any other person, only that their normal lives have been disrupted. A refugee could be anything from a doctor, a teacher to an entrepreneur, a journalist or even a farmer," said Ruhimbana, who now resides in Dadaab.

Dadaab is the world's largest concentration of refugees, a complex of camps in northeast Kenya some 80 km from Somalia. The 430,000 refugees and asylum seekers are mostly Somali.

They are resilient, their activities in Dadaab camps showing that many refugees are determined to support their families. Ruhimbana himself is focused on showing the world that a refugee can make it too.

"Back in my country, I had just finished my Diploma in Commerce and my life was looking bright before hell broke loose. I had to flee. Members of my family were also forced to flee in different directions without a trace of one another… when I arrived in Kenya in 2007 I was settled in Kakuma refugee camp by UNHCR," he said.

"I had never been in a refugee camp before. When I found myself in one, I thought my dreams would crash within no time. I almost gave up my hope," said

Ruhimbana. "I always believed that I have the capability to do anything I ever wanted but I almost doubted myself."

Late in 2007 he was reunited with family members who had arrived in Kakuma and resuming focusing on his future, getting involved in income generating activities within Kakuma camp.

"I got my first job as a French teacher in one of the primary schools in Kakuma. I also raised some money to establish a beauty parlour and a tailoring shop. Whenever I was not in class teaching French, I was either designing clothes in my shop or attending to my customers at my barber shop," Ruhimbana said. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), an NGO that operates in Kakuma, provided items for his salon.

"My salon was the best thing that ever happened to me in a camp. It did very well, especially because I had good partners, but it only did well for a short while. My competitors from the host community were not happy," Ruhimbana said.

"One evening a gang attacked me in my shop and took off with my working items. I was badly injured and I had to seek UNHCR's protection intervention. That is how I ended up being relocated from Kakuma to Dadaab refugee complex."

With savings Ruhimbana brought to Dadaab's Ifo camp, he immediately established a mobile phone charging shop and purchased a new tailoring machine to establish a clothing design shop. Dadaab was very different from Kakuma.

"Ifo camp was very populated. There were hundreds of refugees from Somalia being settled there every day. The conditions in Ifo were harsher than they were in Kakuma and there were many existing businesses all over town. It was hard to penetrate but I had to venture into something anyway," Ruhimbana said.

"Despite all the challenges, I settled down quickly and I made a lot of fiends and customers from different nationalities. People brought me their mobile phones to charge for them. Some even brought laptops, iPads and iPhones."

Again misfortune struck. He was planning to expand his business when a bomb exploded outside his shop in 2011. He joined the stampede from the site and when he returned he discovered he had been robbed.

"All the expensive electronics had been stolen. My designed clothes had also been stolen. The arrival of the police made things even worse because they randomly arrested all people found within the scene of the incident, including me."

Customers demanding compensation for their stolen items threatened him, and with no way to pay, he again sought UNHCR's protection. He was moved to a new settlement where he won a position as a compound management assistant. The safety and small income have not halted Ruhimbana's desire to better his life. Among his activities is teaching French in the evenings.

"What I would really love to do is to establish my own business first and then get a chance to further my studies even as I do these other jobs. I have people who depend on me you know."

By Duke Mwancha in Dadaab




Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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