Raising chickens proves best therapy for Congolese widows in Rwanda

News Stories, 10 April 2014

© UNHCR/E.Fitzpatrick
Widows work in a poultry project in Gihembe Refugee Camp that provides food and income to women who have survived violence and torture. It is also a form of group therapy and communal support.

GIHEMBE, Rwanda, April 10 (UNHCR) Jacqueline swiftly navigates through dozens of fussing hens before swooping down and deftly grabbing one flapping fowl. Although the henhouse is dimly lit, the small chaotic room has become a therapeutic haven for the Congolese refugee, the only one of her family to survive one of Rwanda's most horrific massacres since the 1994 genocide.

The poultry farm was opened three years ago in this camp in the hills of northern Rwanda to provide income to refugee survivors of violence and torture. Not surprisingly, many of the original 250 project members had lived through the infamous 1997 Mudende massacre, when armed groups attacked a UNHCR camp with that name twice within five months, killing hundreds.

Mudende was considered to be too close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and residents were transferred to a new camp at Gihembe.

"I lost my husband and children in Mudende," says Jacqueline, one of the rare times she speaks.

Her friend Pelagie, who also come from Mudende, says the poultry farm quickly took on greater significance than providing food and extra cash for the widows. It turned into something akin to group therapy.

"Before we didn't know each other," says Pelagie. "We didn't speak of our suffering. But now when one of our members is sick or has a problem, we are there for them." The original 250 members has shrunk to 110 as many women were resettled to the United States because of their special needs as survivors of violence or torture.

The women sell their eggs and chickens to fellow refugees and on the local market, with profits invested back into the business. The women also get cash dividends once every three months, as well as eggs for their families.

Pelagie, her husband and five children escaped the Mudende massacre. However, after her husband died nine years ago, she said she frequently had to sell part of her food rations to buy other essentials like clothes and soap. Sometimes she worried what she would feed her children.

But now, with the income from the poultry business, the family eats all month long, and they don't have to sell any rations. Best of all, her oldest daughter, who once had to drop out of Grade 11 when Pelagie could not afford the school fees, has rejoined her class.

The other women at the poultry farm contribute to keep her daughter in school.

"We all take care of each other," Pelagie says with a smile.

By Erika Fitzpatrick in Gihembe Refugee Camp, Rwanda




Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Jean de Dieu, from the Central African Republic (CAR), was on his way to market in mid-January when he was shot. The 24-year-old shepherd and his family had fled their country two months earlier and sought refuge on an island in the Oubangui River belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes Jean crossed back to check on his livestock, but last week his luck ran out when he went to take an animal to market. A few hours later, in an improvised operating room in Dula, a Congolese border town on the banks of the Oubangui, medics fight to save his life.

Jean's situation is not unique. Over the past two years, war in the Central African Republic has driven more than 850,000 people from their homes. Many have been attacked as they fled, or killed if they tried to return. In neighbouring DRC, medical resources are being stretched to their limits.

Photographer Brian Sokol, on assignment for UNHCR, captured the moment when Jean and others were rushed into the operating theatre. His images bear witness to desperation, grief, family unity and, ultimately, a struggle for survival.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

The limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting the displaced in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education. The following striking photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR show some of the despair and suffering.

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

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