Raising chickens proves best therapy for Congolese widows in Rwanda

News Stories, 10 April 2014

© UNHCR/E.Fitzpatrick
Widows work in a poultry project in Gihembe Refugee Camp that provides food and income to women who have survived violence and torture. It is also a form of group therapy and communal support.

GIHEMBE, Rwanda, April 10 (UNHCR) Jacqueline swiftly navigates through dozens of fussing hens before swooping down and deftly grabbing one flapping fowl. Although the henhouse is dimly lit, the small chaotic room has become a therapeutic haven for the Congolese refugee, the only one of her family to survive one of Rwanda's most horrific massacres since the 1994 genocide.

The poultry farm was opened three years ago in this camp in the hills of northern Rwanda to provide income to refugee survivors of violence and torture. Not surprisingly, many of the original 250 project members had lived through the infamous 1997 Mudende massacre, when armed groups attacked a UNHCR camp with that name twice within five months, killing hundreds.

Mudende was considered to be too close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and residents were transferred to a new camp at Gihembe.

"I lost my husband and children in Mudende," says Jacqueline, one of the rare times she speaks.

Her friend Pelagie, who also come from Mudende, says the poultry farm quickly took on greater significance than providing food and extra cash for the widows. It turned into something akin to group therapy.

"Before we didn't know each other," says Pelagie. "We didn't speak of our suffering. But now when one of our members is sick or has a problem, we are there for them." The original 250 members has shrunk to 110 as many women were resettled to the United States because of their special needs as survivors of violence or torture.

The women sell their eggs and chickens to fellow refugees and on the local market, with profits invested back into the business. The women also get cash dividends once every three months, as well as eggs for their families.

Pelagie, her husband and five children escaped the Mudende massacre. However, after her husband died nine years ago, she said she frequently had to sell part of her food rations to buy other essentials like clothes and soap. Sometimes she worried what she would feed her children.

But now, with the income from the poultry business, the family eats all month long, and they don't have to sell any rations. Best of all, her oldest daughter, who once had to drop out of Grade 11 when Pelagie could not afford the school fees, has rejoined her class.

The other women at the poultry farm contribute to keep her daughter in school.

"We all take care of each other," Pelagie says with a smile.

By Erika Fitzpatrick in Gihembe Refugee Camp, Rwanda




DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

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Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

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Sister Angélique Namaika, a Congolese nun who has shown exceptional courage and unwavering support for survivors of violence in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been selected as the 2013 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award.

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal Ugandan rebel group, has waged a campaign of violence that has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people in north-eastern DRC's Orientale province over the past decade. Many Congolese women and girls have been kidnapped and terrorized.

Sister Angélique has been a beacon of hope for these victims, known for her very personal, one-on-one approach to help survivors move beyond their trauma. Many of the people under her care have been forcibly displaced and subjected to sexual violence.

The brutality of the LRA is notorious and the testimonials of the women Sister Angélique has helped are horrific. Adding to their trauma is the fact that many of the victims are stigmatized by society because of their experience. It takes a special person to help them heal and rebuild their lives.

This Year's Nansen Refugee Award winner has spent the past decade helping women, mostly through a combination of income-generation activities, skills development courses, literacy training and psycho-social counselling. She has made a positive difference to the lives of thousands of individuals, their families and communities.

UNHCR's 2013 Nansen Refugee Award Winner

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