As one year ends, Central African refugees make a wish for 2015
MOLE REFUGEE CAMP, Democratic Republic of the Congo, January 8 (UNHCR) - As people around the world ushered in the New Year last week, refugees at a camp in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo joined in the celebrations, uncertain of what 2015 will bring them.
And they put on a pretty good show with a Michael Jackson lookalike warming up the crowds of revellers at the Mole Refugee Camp's community centre, performing the late superstar's hits and moonwalk before other exuberant exiles from the Central African Republic displayed their skills in dance, music, song, drama and poetry.
It was a night of happiness and hope, despite their circumstances. Many of the songs and poems that filled the night air referred to the situation across the nearby Oubangui River in their native Central African Republic, their pain and the hope for peace. Inter-communal fighting since late 2012 has forced tens of thousands to flee to safer areas inside CAR or to neighbouring countries such as the DRC.
UNHCR's Céline Schmitt, a senior external relations officer based in Kinshasa, joined in the celebrations and shared in the mood of the refugees and other aid workers. "The joy of celebrating the New Year together took over from the sadness and from time to time we were called up onto the stage to take part in traditional dances or to sing songs written by a refugee," she recalls.
The partying went on into the wee small hours, a brief respite from the challenges of being a refugee. For many it was their second New Year's Eve in Mole, which provides shelter to 16,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. Schmitt later talked to some of the camp residents and aid workers about their hopes for 2015.
Edwige, 25, was studying American literature when she fled Bangui in 2013. Her fiancé and 10-year-old son were killed in the violence. Recently elected president of the refugee committee in Mole, she believes strongly in the importance of education for the many young people in the camp.
"For 2015, it would be great if there could be a way to help young people to continue their studies. We have lost more than two years. Students don't go to school. They do nothing and they complain. It is not easy here. It is difficult to do online courses. There are not enough computers . . . It would be good it these students could go and study somewhere else," she says.
Thirty-year-old Teddy is the head teacher at Mole's only primary school. Disguised as a woman, he boarded a ferry at Bangui and crossed the Oubangui to the DRC town of Zongo in August 2013. In Mole, he has dedicated his time to the education of refugees, creating a library and starting adult literacy courses.
Teddy says his dearest wish in 2015 is "to be more efficient and innovative for the development of the community." He adds that the literacy courses launched four months ago have been a great success. "Some women cried when they managed to read their first sentence. I want to focus on education for women and children. It is a way to pay tribute to my mother. My father died when I was very small. It is thanks to my mother that I became what I am. She was a teacher."
Mercia, a 16-year-old student, escaped from Bangui in April last year with her parents and six siblings. When she arrived in Mole, she was sad to learn there was no secondary school. A few months ago she took up capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts that includes dance, acrobatics and music. It has become an obsession.
Mercia says her dream for 2015 is to go to school and continue with her studies. "I lost school when I arrived here. I also want to continue capoeira. I want to work hard in capoeira, to continue to learn, become good and go far. I want to perform capoeira in Kinshasa and in foreign countries . . . I would like to become a capoeira teacher."
Romuald heads the camp's youth committee. The 24-year-old is an artist; he writes poems, sings and has produced a documentary on HIV/AIDS. He says that in the coming year, he would like to make another film that he has written since arriving in Mole in 2013. He has named it, "The most beautiful girl in the village," and says it tells the story of a refugee who falls in love with a local girl.
"His love creates conflict with the villagers because the girl is married - the boy has to give up his love," he says, adding: "I have another dream which is to go to a studio to record my songs. I wrote 26 songs in English, French or Sango [his mother tongue]. The songs talk about peace, love and the arts. One is called, 'We need power to sing and dance.'"
Mireille, aged 31, works as a midwife in the camp's health centre and has helped many refugee women give birth. Some nights there are up to seven deliveries. She was the midwife on duty on New Year's Eve, when a healthy baby girl was born in Mole. She loves her job and says she hopes to help more women in 2015.
"When I help a woman giving birth and she recovers well, is healthy and her baby too, I am very happy. I live alone here. My family is in Kinshasa, but I like to be with the refugees. I also want to see improvements in the health centre. We don't have an ambulance or an incubator for premature babies. At the moment, I have to put a blanket over premature babies. It would be easier if we had an incubator."
Michel Makasi Iyeme Issa
Michel, who joined UNHCR in 2003, has been working as a community services associate in Mole since it was reopened in 2013. "My most ardent wish [in 2015] is to see the suffering of the refugees substantially eased. This is our mandate. This is why we exist. I hope that the reasons that forced refugees to flee will come to an end," says the experienced 51-year-old.
"I also hope that we will be able to ensure their well-being in the camp despite the financial challenges we are facing. The number of refugees worldwide has never been as high and we have difficulties in accessing funding . . . I hope that we will be able to access more funding and increase our capacity to fully fulfil our mandate."