By Elyse Ndayihimbaze, Innovation and Program Development Manager at Help a Child Burundi
Between a rock and a hard place
Hunger, the high cost of medical treatment and lack of water were the main problems IDPs faced in their first days at the relocation site. Fortunately, in the years 2020 and 2021, humanitarian organizations, churches and other well-wishers responded in numbers to address their basic needs. “The first year was good,” Maria states, “we had food, NFI kits and good tents to live in. Our children had back to school kits. However, help came to a sudden halt for an extended period of time.”
To put this into perspective, the Ukraine crisis had a negative impact on humanitarian aid in Burundi. From January 2022, most organization cut their budget for disaster responses in half, while others stopped their humanitarian interventions altogether. The international community focused its attention on Ukraine, thus being unable or unwilling to provide the same level of support to other crises.
Along with the announcement of reduced funding in 2022, a second wave of floods occurred in Gatumba in January 2023. One of the IDP relocation sites was also flooded, so even more people moved to the Sobel IDP relocation site. Some IDPs became beggars, others indulged in illegal activities such as commercial sex, stealing or trading prohibited substances. Others left the country to look for better opportunities elsewhere.
The lack of mental stability caused most IDPs, primarily youth, to indulge in unhealthy habits. “Apart from losing all their belongs, IDPs were also traumatized. Their lives changed significantly as they were forcefully moved from their homes into the streets or relocation sites.” Samantha, a Social Action For Development (SAD) staff member shares. “Children abandoned school in numbers, support would either not come or come irregularly.”
Building back better
Help a Child has been supporting households displaced by natural disasters since 2020, at first with cash for shelter along with non-food items (NFI) kits, food aid and loans promoting their economic recovery. In 2022 and 2023, the organization adapted its intervention to match the most pressing needs of IDPs through a climate smart agriculture project. This intervention included trainings on positive parenting and early stimulation, psychosocial support and SGBV prevention for parents.
“The beauty of being at Sobel is that when we go farming, our children are taken care of in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) center,” Thérèse shares. “We see changes in the behavior of our children, they are more interested in school, their grades have improved and even at home, they are more willing to do chores and spend time with us as parents,” Tite adds.
In these ECD spaces, children are encouraged to think critically, to read, write and develop life skills. This is done through board games, music, dance, team sports and tutoring. Overall, parents are thankful for the services provided by the center. On a downside, care givers report that children sometimes express that they do not have dinner, breakfast and at times no meals at home for consecutive days.
Both Thérèse and Tite were farmers before being displaced. “Farming is costly. Having lost everything in the floods, I did not know how to resume farming. So being taught how to start small with a kitchen garden was an eye-opening experience,” she shares. With the gained modern farming skills, the farmers saw instant progress in the quantity of vegetables and fruits grown on the farm. “We saw the benefits of drip irrigation techniques,” Thérèse says. “We were well on our way to a big harvest but the water shortage due to the tank explosion and thereafter generator failure resulted in a major setback for us.” Tite expresses.
Priority IDP relocation needs
In 2023, an additional 250 IDP households were trained on modern farming techniques. The new members are thankful for the support given by fellow IDPs, Help a Child, SAD and Holland Green Tech staff. They dream of returning to their homes, where their children can study, where they can swim in the Lake, play football and learn their parents’ vocation (primarily fishing and farming). Their collective request towards the government, donors and other well-wishers is relocation support. Among the things they need are construction kits or cash for rent, agricultural start up kits, land to farm as cooperatives and multiplication of certified seeds.
At the wake of a new raining season, the farmer group closes the interview with mixed feeling, “it’s about to rain again, this is good news for our crops, but our hearts are still concerned about the families currently in Gatumba. Some will be displaced again; they are not praying for rain like we are. Others might also find themselves homeless given the worst-case scenario. We pray for God’s hands to cover us all as we enter a new year, to enter it with good news.” Thérèse concludes.