A haven of peace in Tanzania

A refugee mother tells her experience of growing up in a refugee camp and then raising her own family in the same camp, where she receives World Food Programme (WFP) assistance.

Max Wohlgemuth
Jun 19, 2019 · 4 min read
“I don’t want my children to experience the same horrors of instability and war that I did,” says Mwayaona, a resident of Nyarugusu Refugee Camp. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

“I am not sure what the future will hold for me and my family. I only know that we don’t have another home to go to anymore,” says Mwayaona Thabit, a 36-year-old refugee from Zaire, present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). “The most important thing for me and my family is peace. I don’t want my children to experience the same horrors of instability and war that I did.”

Mwayaona has lived in refugee camps in Tanzania for most of her life. In the camps, she finished school, met her husband, got married and gave birth to two children now aged 14 and 6.

“It is really the only life I know,” Mwayaona says. “We do have challenges here in the camp, but they are normal challenges. It is nothing compared to the fear and uncertainty of having to run for your life.”

Mwayaona first fled to Tanzania with her family when she was 12 years old. In 1996, fighting from the First Congo War resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and many people seeking asylum in neighbouring counties.

The family was grateful for safety and returned home to DRC after the end of the war. Unfortunately, peace would not last long. The same week they arrived home in 1998, fighting broke out again. They were forced to hide and took shelter in the bush for three weeks before fleeing back to Tanzania.

Life in the camps

Through life in the camps, a new normal emerged for Mwayaona. She did well in her studies, finishing her secondary education at the camp school. Upon completion, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and study nursing and midwifery at another camp school taught by refugee doctors from DRC.

“My father was a doctor and he taught me about the importance of helping others despite one’s own situation,” says Mwayaona.

Now, Mwayaona works several days a week with Tanzania Red Cross Society at the camp health centre in exchange for a small stipend.

Lifesaving food assistance

Tanzania hosts over 283,000 refugees in camps with almost 30 percent of them being from DRC. The remaining are primarily from Burundi. Since 2017, over 63,000 Burundian refugees have been supported to voluntarily repatriate.

Refugees in Tanzania are hosted in three camps — Nduta, Nyarugusu and Mtendeli — in the north-western region of Kigoma. Refugees are not allowed to work or travel outside the camps. This makes them highly dependent on assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) to meet their food needs.

Each month WFP distributes food rations consisting of maize meal, pulses — typically peas or beans — vegetable oil, salt and fortified porridge mix.

WFP also provides supplementary nutritious foods — fortified porridge mix and micro-nutrient powders rich in vitamins and minerals — for pregnant and breastfeeding women, to ensure the growth and development of children under 5 years of age. People on treatment for HIV/AIDS and hospital in-patients also receive supplementary nutritious foods from WFP. Hot meals and high energy biscuits are provided at departure centres for people repatriating

Ration reductions

“We rely on WFP for at least 90 percent of the food we eat,” says Mwayaona. “That’s what made ration reductions so hard — especially for the young children. Sometimes we were only able to eat once a day.”

WFP’s refugee feeding programmes are 100 percent voluntarily funded and rely on support from donors. As a result of funding shortfalls in 2017, WFP reduced refugee rations so as to not completely run out of food.

“Food and ration reductions can have severe, lasting consequences on refugee populations,” says Michael Dunford, WFP Tanzania Country Representative. “Fortunately, with the support of key donors, we were able to return to full rations by October 2018. We are working closely with Tanzania and the international community to ensure rations can be maintained at 100 percent into the future.”

Rashidi (right) is grateful rations are back to 100 percent. When rations were at their lowest, the family would reduce the number of meals eaten a day in order to cope. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

Donor support

WFP’s top donors include USA, United Kingdom, European Union, Ireland, Canada, Germany and the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund.

Want to help refugees like Mwayaona and her family? DONATE NOW.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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