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Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (UNHCR's World) - Rwanda: Children united

Refugees Magazine, 1 June 1996

It was a big day at the Rugunga Primary School when a truckload of "Peace Packs" arrived, filled with useful gifts from French children.

By Rugunga Primary School Kigali, Rwanda

It is 9 a.m. a special morning at the Rugunga Primary School, in the suburbs of Kigali, Rwanda. Hundreds of children wait with growing impatience for the arrival of the UNHCR trucks. They are waiting for "Peace Packs" parcels individually prepared for them by children in the far-off country of France.

When the trucks appear on the road, the children begin to clap their hands. "The presents, the presents!" they shout.

Amid much jostling and excitement, the packages are distributed to each child. And each child finds notebooks, coloured pencils, a pencil sharpener, an eraser and a ruler, a t-shirt, underwear, some toiletries, a toy and a little note or a drawing from the French children who put the packages together. The toothbrush is an intriguing and very precious object, a real luxury. But the magic slates, the balloons and the tiny cars cause the greatest excitement.

The 8,400 little packages that arrived at Kigali airport some days earlier were collected under the "Peace Pack" project, which was jointly launched at the end of 1993 by UNHCR and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Since then, more than 250,000 individual parcels have been prepared in some 40 different countries, involving 1.7 million young Guides, Scouts and the Scout movement as a whole.

In France, as elsewhere, the campaign has served as a good opportunity to raise public awareness of the plight of refugees. In addition to making the Peace Packs, Guides and Scouts around the world have studied the refugee situation, held group discussions, viewed films of various UNHCR operations and activities, played a simulation game aimed at teaching them more about flight and exile, and held public collections to gather the items that go into the Packs.

The hundreds of thousands of Peace Packs have been shipped to refugee camps worldwide, most of them at no charge thanks to the generosity of several international shipping and transport companies. They are handed out to refugee, displaced or repatriated children by UNHCR staff or non-governmental organization personnel.

In one of the packages delivered to Kigali was a note from Hannah: "My friends of Rwanda, I have heard about you on television. I am thinking about you and am sending you this little package. I send you a hug and hope that all these things will be useful for you. Signed: A little girl from France, Hannah."

Thousands of similar messages have crossed continents and oceans: from Japan to Afghanistan, Great Britain to Côte d'Ivoire, South Korea to Sri Lanka, the Nordic countries to Tajikistan, Australia to Kenya, Canada to Mozambique. The list goes on and on. In other countries, like Guatemala, the project has helped to renew the ties between those who stayed at home and those who are coming back from years in exile.

The initiative has also made local children aware of the refugees in their own countries. In Romania, for example, the distribution of Peace Packs to Albanian, Afghan, Iranian and Somali refugee children in a camp at Gociu was the springboard for a local project by Romanian children to involve the refugees in their own society and activities.

Today, the delegates of the French Guide and Scout movement who came to help distribute the packages in Rwanda have found in the children's laughter ample reward for many months of hard work by their associations. At Rugunga, international solidarity wears the face of a happy child who has just received a gift. The picture of Marie's beaming smile as she cuddles her new white teddy bear is the most beautiful return gift she could make to the children in far-off France who sent it to her

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (1996)




UNHCR country pages

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

Rwanda's Kiziba Camp was opened in December 1996, after the start of civil war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The facility was constructed to help cope with the influx of tens of thousands of Congolese refugees at that time. Some of the refugees have since returned to their homes in eastern DRC, but about 16,000 remain at the remote hilltop camp located in the Western province of Rwanda. Fresh violence last year in DRC's North Kivu province did not affect the camp because new arrivals were accommodated in the reopened Kigeme Camp in Rwanda's Southern province. Most of the refugees in Kiziba have said they do not want to return, but the prospects of local integration is limited by factors such as a lack of land and limited access to employment. In the meantime, people try to lead as normal a life as possible, learning new skills and running small businesses to help them become self-sufficient. For the youth, access to sports and education is very important to ensure that they do not become sidetracked by negative influences as well as to keep up their spirits and hopes for the future.

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

The suffering and strength of displaced Congolese women

During the ceaseless cycle of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is the vulnerable who suffer the most, especially women and children. The issue of widespread sexual and gender-based violence is a major concern for UNHCR, but it never goes away. The refugee agency has received dozens of reports of rape and assault of women during the latest wave of fighting between government forces and rebel troops as well as militia groups in North and South Kivu provinces. It is an area where rape is used as a weapon of war.

The fear of sexual and physical violence forces thousands of women to seek refuge away from their homes or across the border in countries such as Rwanda and Uganda. Often their menfolk remain behind and women become the heads of household, looking after young children. They are the bedrock of society, yet they are often the first to suffer when instability comes to their home areas.

The following images were taken recently in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda by Frédèric Noy. They depict Congolese women who have fled their homes, leaving almost everything behind, and sought shelter in a place they hope will be better than where they came from. In many ways they have become inured to hardship, but so many of them continue to retain hope for themselves and their children. And that is an inspiration to those who help them.

The suffering and strength of displaced Congolese women

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

The Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda's Southern province was reopened in June 2012 after thousands of Congolese civilians started fleeing across the border when fighting erupted in late April between Democratic Republic of the Congo government forces and fighters of the rebel M23 movement. Built on terraced hills, it currently houses more than 14,000 refugees but was not significantly affected by the latest fighting in eastern Congo, which saw the M23 capture the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, before withdrawing. While many of the adults long for lasting peace in their home region, the younger refugees are determined to resume their education. Hundreds enrolled in special classes to help them prepare for the Rwandan curriculum in local primary and secondary schools, including learning different languages. In a camp where more than 60 per cent of the population are aged under 18 years, the catch-up classes help traumatized children to move forward, learn and make friends.

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.