Kayirangwa Emeline in Mahama camp. Photo by Caritas Rwanda.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way for Burundian Refugees in Rwanda

Report from Caritas

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Kayirangwa Emeline used to look at her eight children and despair. A Burundian refugee, she was raising them alone in Mahama camp in Rwanda after fleeing her own country.

“I was always in debt because I never had enough money to feed my large family. I looked at my children, hungry and without clothes, and I didn’t know what to do,” says Kayirangwa.

Hundreds of thousands of Burundians have fled their country since 2015, starting in the run-up to parliamentary elections and continuing in the turmoil that followed the vote. Many fled to neighboring Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Uganda. For many people, it is a forgotten crisis.

While some refugees are now being repatriated to Burundi, those such as Kayirangwa are still struggling to raise their families in precarious conditions far from home.

Hope in Mahama Camp

Hope came from Caritas, who gave Kayirangwa a loan to help her start a business selling goat meat. She used to work as a vendor in Burundi so she had the right skills to help her business grow. Within six months, business was booming and Kayirangwa was able to buy a cow, whose milk she could sell but also use to nourish her children, and a motorbike to help her transport her goods.

Life changed for Kayirangwa and her family and her children were no longer hungry and without clothes.

Ngarambe Vanson, a Caritas Rwanda staff member who works at Mahama with the women’s microfinance group that Kayirangwa belongs to, says that just a small amount of financial support has made a world of difference to the women. He said Caritas chose families who were in the greatest difficulty to help them develop a livelihood and gain some independence.

“You can see that their lives have changed even their attitudes. They are able to take care of their families without ever being in debt like before. The children are clean, healthy and smiling, which was not the case before.”

But now the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the collapse of her Kayirangwa’s business and she needs support to get through this difficult time.

Rebuilding lives and restoring dignity

In summer 2020, Caritas launched a three-year €380,000 program to help Burundian refugees in Mahama camp. Our work is focusing, among other things, on helping Kayirangwa and the women in her group launch and build small businesses. We know that with a small amount of help, people can gain autonomy and enjoy a dignified life where they can earn enough money to take care of their families.

savings and credit groups run by Caritas Rwanda in Mahama camp

Women head of households participate in savings and credit groups run by Caritas Rwanda in Mahama camp. Photo by Caritas Rwanda

But we also are helping the elderly, ensuring they are fed and taken care of and we’re enabling people to farm by providing seeds and tools. All efforts are focused on making farming as environmentally friendly as possible.

Another part of the program focuses on helping people who need help with their mental health or who may be suffering because of human rights abuses from their lives before they became refugees.

Caritas is also training mediators to provide peacebuilding training to the camp community. In the words of Pope Paul VI: “Development is the new word for peace.”

We want to support the community in Mahama camp to rebuild their lives, reinforcing long term development plans for restoring dignity.

Benefactors and donors have supported Kayirangwa and the people in Mahama camp over the past few years. Thanks to the role and work of Caritas, their small businesses have grown and their autonomy increased in a way that really improves their lives.

Please do not hesitate to support Kayirangwa to save her business, so she and her children can live dignified lives in the coming months and in the long-term. Your contribution could play a life-saving role for our brothers and sisters in need.

In this time of pandemic, solidarity is not just an option, but it is the best way for delivering hope and opportunities to those struggling the most.

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