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




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Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

After crossing the Oubangui River to the DRC, Edwige was transferred to Mole, a camp housing more than 13,000 refugees. In a bid to move on with her life and keep busy, she started to help others, assume a leadership role and take part in communal activities, including the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. She heads the women's committee, is engaged in efforts to combat sexual violence, and acts as a liaison officer at the health centre. She also teaches and runs a small business selling face creams. "I discovered that I'm not weak," said Edwige, who remains optimistic. She is sure that her country will come out of its nightmare and rebuild, and that she will one day become a human rights lawyer helping refugees.

American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

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.

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

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