Its just after 6pm here and we’re on our way back from the refugee camp. So close to the equator, the Great Lakes Region year round has approx 12hrs of light and its already almost dark.
The camp was sobering – as refugee camps tend to be. Over 10,000 refugees from the latest fighting and approx 9,000 waiting to be transferred from the transit center on the border. Most fled as the fighting neared or had just entered their villages. The Congolese are sadly accustomed to war, and when they hear bullets they run. In the chaos, however, families are divided and women grab the children at home, having to leave husbands, other children, belongings, and animals behind. They literally have with nothing but the clothes on their backs and have no idea when they will go home or see their families again.
In the camps, they receive food (corn, beans, salt and oil) from WFP, a tent, cooking pot, spoon, blanket, soap and plastic bucket from the UNHCR, some firewood and very basic medical services. The kids play with plastic bags bunched together to form a ball or a car fashioned from empty plastic bottles.
While there, I watched new busloads arrive 260 in total, 78 families. Other refugees lined up, along each side of the road, everyone searching for missing family members or friends. Some embraced and greeted, other new arrivals continued walking searching for familiar faces.
And yet they smile. They laugh. They joke and greet you with openess and curiosity, they start small businesses (selling vegetables, telephone SIM cards, maize beer), help manage the camp, construct offices for the NGOs, etc. Their undying spirit and determination is humbling and inspiring. Facing war time and time again, losing all and rebuilding over and over, it is truly awesome. I met a man of 70 years old with his wife, “The war in Congo never ends..” He’s been living with this since 1959.