MUTARE-For a 10-year-old, having to walk on foot for an unknown duration to an unknown destination, in search of peace and safety is one of the most harrowing and traumatic experiences one could ever go through in childhood.
But 24-year-old Celine Niyonagira,from Burundi has vague memories of their life back home in Burundi but vividly remembers how painful her long walk to freedom was.
” I was still very young and could not fully comprehend the happenings around me but one thing I know for sure was that our walk to Zimbabwe was one of the most painful experiences of my lifetime. There was no transport for us as we lived in an unsettled environment and the only way we could make it out as a family was to walk, she said.
Niyonagira remembers she had no prior early childhood education as she and her siblings were not allowed to attend school.
“My father is Burundian and my mother is Rwandan and because our parents are of mixed nationality we were never considered as Brundian thus we could not get access to basic rights and amenities such as education, she added.
Niyonagira says her arrival in Zimbabwe marked a turning point in her life and that of her nine siblings. They can now live without fear and get access to and participate in socio-economic activities that have improved their livelihoods.
“I have managed to get access to basic education as I am currently sitting for my O level examinations and I believe with education I can make something better of myself and improve my life and liberate my family from the socio-economic oppression we faced back home,” she added.
Tongogara Refugee camp in Chipinge district of Manicaland has offered a safe habour to over 13 nationalities. Most of the camp residents faced many traumatic events in their home countries due to the ongoing conflicts, which forced them to flee from their homes. However, their distress coming from past traumatic events has not been fully addressed. Life in the camp rarely gives them hope for the future as chances of resettlement or integration are limited for various reasons.
Most have become long stayers without having a lot of livelihood activities, which causes distress, and a feeling of hopelessness for some people though they exhude natural resilience by being positive and innovative in making their life more cheerful.
A total of 220 youths and 30 refugee women are set to benefit from small income generating projects in goat rearing and soap production respectively to enable them to become self-reliant, economically active and be able to realise their potential and capabilities to reduce vulnerability in Tongogara Refugee Camp.
The Zimbabwe Red Cross Society and Terre De Homes Italia ONLUS (TDH Italy) with funding from the American government through the Julia Taft Fund have implemented the projects in response to economic challenges faced in the camp that had been worsened by the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The projects were established following a request by a focus group of women in the camp as well as observing that youths in disadvantaged families in the camp and host families face a number of economic challenges as both government and donor support significantly reduced in the post Covid phase.
The goat rearing project is set to improve livelihoods of youths in Tongogara refugee camp and surrounding communities through income generation, entrepreneurship and employment creation.
Niyonagira applauded the Government of Zimbabwe for the peaceful environment offered to them which has enabled such initiatives to take root and change her life, that of her family and the communities around her.
The TDH ran income generating soap making enterprise will benefit 30 vulnerable women comprised single mothers, women with children living with disabilities and women looking after or fostering unaccompanied and separated children in the camp.