Love in the time of exodus

Story and photos by Max Wohlgemuth

Since the outbreak of violence in Burundi in 2015, more than 143,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Tanzania. Uwimana and his wife Ndagijimana managed to escape the fighting and have settled in Mtendeli refugee camp in northwest Tanzania. Uwimana shares their story.

Uwimana (right) with his wife, Ndagijimana (centre), and his mother, Nibivugire. Photo: WFP /Max Wohlgemuth

Shortly after the violence in Burundi started in 2015, I knew I had to flee.

I am an electrician by training and had been working as a motorcycle driver in Nyanza-Lac, a small town in southern Burundi on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. I was already a repatriated refugee from previous crises, and I was worried that I would again be in danger.

When the fighting started, they stole my motorcycle, arrested my friends and started hunting me. I knew I had to run.

Ndagijimana had planned on finishing her studies in Burundi. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

My girlfriend, Ndagijimana, my father and I hid for a few days while we got ready. One night, just after dark, we boarded small boats for Tanzania along with other asylum seekers.

It was a dark night, and the boats travelled one after another with long distances between them. Ndagijimana and I were on one boat and my father on another. It was a long, quiet trip, taking almost eight hours. Soon after leaving, we lost sight of my father’s boat.

At around 3 am we arrived in Kigoma and immediately started looking for my father. We were crushed when we heard the news that his boat had been stopped by the police. We still don’t know where he is.

Mtendeli camp is home to more than 28,000 Burundian refugees. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

We’ve settled in Mtendeli camp in the Kakonko district in northwest Tanzania. In October last year we were reunited with my mother.

At Mtendeli camp I work as a food distributor for the World Food Programme (WFP) during the fortnightly food delivery. WFP gives me a small stipend in exchange for helping with the distribution. I help offload trucks at the distribution centre and measure foods into bags for other refugees to collect.

Receiving this income has helped my family so much. When you have money, you can afford variety and have a better quality of life. It gives us independence.

Construction, food distribution and cooking give Burundians like Uwimana the opportunity to earn a small stipend. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

Despite our challenges and losses, Ndagijimana and I have been trying our best to move on with our lives. Back in Burundi, Ndagijimana was planning on finishing school, and we were saving money to get married and start our life together. But we still don’t know how long it will take before it’s safe enough to return home. That’s why we decided to get married here.

“We have to try and keep going in life — we have no idea what tomorrow will be like”

Ndagijimana is now seven months pregnant. We didn’t plan on having a baby in a refugee camp, but we have to try to keep going in life — we have no idea what tomorrow will be like. That’s why the food and income from the World Food Programme is so important. I can depend on it. It helps me relax, knowing that my wife and my child will have food.”

“I’ve been here on and off my whole life. Mtendeli is now more home to me than Burundi.” says Uwimana. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth


The influx of refugees from Burundi has led to Tanzania hosting the third largest number of new refugees worldwide in 2015, with more asylum seekers still arriving every week.

For refugees in Tanzania, the World Food Programme’s food baskets are their main source of food. WFP also provides hot meals to refugees at reception centres and to those admitted in health care facilities.

On top of a regular supply of food, the distribution and transport of this food provide small income opportunities for some of the refugees. WFP works with non-government organizations like the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, and World Vision, which hire cooks, food distributors and casual labourers.

WFP provides food baskets of maize meal, pulses, salt, oil and fortified blended food to Burundian refugees. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

The World Food Programme is entirely funded by voluntary donations and is only able to conduct its refugee programmes thanks to the contributions from donors.

Since the current influx of Burundian refugees into Tanzania started, WFP has received contributions from Belgium, Canada, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), France, Germany, Japan, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, and USA/Food for Peace.

The World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Find out more at wfp.org

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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