Faces of Hope: Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe

More than 12 500 refugees are living in Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp, Chipinge district

Being away from home can be difficult, especially when living in a foreign land — but what do you do when you have no choice? The World Food Programme in Zimbabwe is assisting some 12 500 refugees from more than seven African countries, and they all have different stories to tell. Conflict and unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea have displaced large numbers of people who are now living in Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp, Chipinge district.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping them rebuild their shattered lives.

When being scared was a permanent state of mind, the only option was to flee.

Beatar Ahishakiye fled Rwanda nineteen years ago.

“War is not good, war killed my whole family. I miss my country however I am living peacefully in Zimbabwe,” she says.

Beatar has been given a SCOPE card, WFP’s beneficiary registration and management software that allows money to be transferred electronically. The SCOPE card is the same size as a regular ATM card and works much the same way. The SCOPE card allows Beatar to purchase food from local markets.

Gishora drums always playing in my ears.

Amina Muzaki, a 38-year-old from Burundi, found herself here because of love.

“I arrived at the camp eight years ago with my husband. There are tribal wars and religious differences between our families so we ran away from our mother land,” explains Amina. “I miss the city of Gitega and the sound of the Gishora drums. We buy food and clothes with money we receive from WFP. The money is not much, but we are managing.”

A part of me died the day when my children were killed.

“I came here last year from DRC after my children were killed and our home destroyed.” says 63 year old Elizabeth Kandolo “I miss my children, I thought they would bury me, but I was the one to bury them first. A part of me died on the day my children were killed.”

“I also miss the big Congo bananas, fresh fish from Zaire river, games and dances. I used to lead a group of women dancers.”

Elizabeth, who arrived at the camp alone, received cereal, cooking oil and pulses from WFP on arrival. She says going back home is something she will think about, should the violence and crime subside. To help her persevere, Elizabeth teaches song and dance to a few young girls in the camp.

Without adequate and timely assistance, Elizabeth and her friends cannot sustain themselves. Under Zimbabwean law, only a few refugees are permitted to work outside of the camp.

I hope I will eat injera again.

Geberetsadik Zweditu, from Ethiopia, says her two young girls, who were born in the camp, love sadza- a Zimbabwean cereal. But for her, nothing beats injera- a traditional Ethiopian flatbread. “I hope problems at home will be resolved. My dream is to return to Ethiopia,” she reflects.

This year is Geberetsadik’s eighth year in Zimbabwe. She uses her monthly allowance from WFP to purchase food and school clothes for her young daughters aged seven five.

“We are not allowed to work, so the money allows me to purchase food for my children so that they have the energy to attend school and do well,” she says.

The heartbeat of Africa, the future looks young.

“I left DRC when I was eight years old. I remember the gun shots at night,” says Nathalie Mulumba. “I am not Congolese or Burundian anymore — my heartbeat is African. This year, I turn 21 and will have more freedom. I’m here with my parents and eight siblings. Mom uses the money we receive from WFP wisely, so that we can afford everything I need for university.”

Nathalie finished high school last year and wants to attend university. “When I grow up I want to be a lawyer,” she adds.

Home is a stone’s throw away, and I will return one day.

“Violence sent us here. I can see the mountains near the village where I’m from. There is not much difference between Mozambique and Zimbabwe, so adapting was easy, but home is the best,” says 14 year old Josia Nhlongwane.

Josia and his family have invested some of the money they receive from WFP into a small business selling fish. “I noticed that most people here in the camp enjoy eating fish, so we purchase the fish in bulk, dry it and then repackage for sale within the community,” says Josia’s father.

WFP has been supporting refugees in Zimbabwe since January 2015. Cash based transfers empower people with choice to address their essential needs in local markets, while also helping to boost these markets. In Zimbabwe, rice, fish and potatoes are the most popular commodities. UNHCR is focused on providing shelter, educational supplies, water and sanitation. The refugee agency is also committed to expanding and diversifying income-generating projects to increase the resilience of those living in the camp.

With the support of donors such as USAID and China, WFP Zimbabwe, alongside its partners, are assisting refugees from across Africa.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Zimbabwe.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme