This week, we had the opportunity to speak with Wereje Benson, a mission director of COBURWAS International Youth Organization to Transform Africa. Mr Benson is living and working in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, where our very own community partner Celestin spent decades of his life, and where we are currently coordinating direct relief to refugee families who are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet in light of the increasingly cramped settlement conditions. Below, Mr Benson gives a frank update as to the current situation in the settlement. We continue to hope that this oral history project serves as a platform for advocacy and moves people to make decisions both politically and financially that will ease the burden refugees face. While there is a long road to bettering the lives of refugees and reversing the damage that war, famine, and climate crisis have created in the lives of millions around the world, the most immediate needs of refugees are food and medical care. It is a difficult time for many due to the economic constraints of COVID-19; however, we ask those who are willing and able to consider a donation that will go directly to meeting these immediate needs of families within the Kyangwali community here. Please listen to and share Mr Benson's story, below.
Hello, [this is] Wereje Benson, I live in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement, and I came here when I was young in 1997 so I’ve been doing community work with an organization called Ciyota International Youth Organization to Transform Africa. It is the organization I co-founded, we have been operating for the last fourteen years. So I came here to Kyangwali because of the increment of refugees have been living in the camp allowed because of studies and other reasons. So I came here for a mission, I came here as a missionary. I have been doing community outreaches and various programs. So the challenge here is due to the influx of refugees from DRC, today there is more than 100,000 refugees here and because of that – so, each refugee gets a very small plot of land. Previously, refugees would get land and then they dig to feed themselves. But because the number increased, they have very small plots. So they cannot easily feed themselves. The other issue is that each refugee gets 0.2 cents per month – no, per day. Yeah. 0.2 cents per day to feed themselves. So that one is practically impossible, which makes refugees really suffer. But right where I am, I look at two girls who got married when they were fourteen, both of them have been here for seven months, one of them has six children and another has two. So that means it’s a family for ten people living in a small house. Now, feeding these children is very hard and almost impossible. Where they sleep, they sleep on the ground, and of course the issues of them going to school, like the children going to school, that is almost impossible. But for now, I think they need just food. Because for all these years I’ve been speaking with these girls, but they—the fathers of these children are nowhere to be seen in the last seven months. So in the room where I stay when I look on the other side, there is another woman with two babies or so without a husband. Even on my left hand side, the same. So I am trying to mean I am surrounded by mainly women without husbands but with many children, and these women—it is not easy for them to do hard labor, but also they do the work for them to give something to their children. I’ve been moving around here. Most of the children here are malnourished, and in fact unfortunately I have attended more than three burials especial of children who have been sick of malnutrition. I struggled to take one to the hospital and give them food but unfortunately they can’t survive.
So those are just issues and practical issues that I see, just five meters away from where I am. Then of course I’ve seen pregnant women who are almost living outside, and there is another family I visited and they have a girl who is very ill, and I told them to take the girl to the hospital, so they tried to go to the hospital and this young girl was transferred to one of the towns eighty kilometers from here. Because the mother did not have a phone, so it was not easy for me to follow up and contact her and find out what was happening. So through struggling and finding out what was happening, I got my friend who lived in that town, and I told him, I gave him description of this woman and the sick daughter. So my friend moved to the hospital and started searching for the woman. My friend saw the woman and by this time, the woman had spent like three days in the hospital without even being given medication because she had less than two dollars which could not be given to the doctors. So no money, refugees are supposed to be treated for free. But [sigh] things happen that cannot easily be explained. Not caring about refugees. So I sent the money to my friend so he can give the doctor and have the doctor now start looking for the blood, because now the girl had lost too much blood and she had become anemic. And all those days without any medication, unfortunately after just like 10 minutes my friend told me that “You have struggled in vain,” that the girl had passed away. So for the last six to seven months I have been here. That is one of the stories that have shocked me. Because I saw this girl when she was still alive. And then again I could not see her again. So every time I meet the mother – one of the foods that Celestin sent, I took it there. And I keep seeing her, remembering this girl who died. So those are some of the tough stories, that even me to explain them is very challenging.
So now from the time I’ve been here, of course I’ve been getting clothes from churches and friends and individuals. So I’ve been distributing clothes, I’ve been distributing soap, I’ve been distributing some small money for people and especial for medication. I’ve been fixing small holes in homes. Like, where I am, I don’t know exactly how many elder people –like, women who are from sixty, sixty years to eighty, ninety—who are living alone. Some of them have no children, some of them told me they were left in the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] or others died. So [sigh], yeah. It’s not easy. It’s just like ten meters away from where I stay –by the way, I’m staying in a church—so from here to ten meters, there is a man who is sixty, sixty something years old, and he has two boys, young boys, like ten, twelve years, and a girl. So they did not come here with their mothers. The man is old, he cannot work, and the children are so young. So when you look at lives of all these people, it is something not easy to explain. It is tough. Yeah, so for these days I’ve been trying to teach small managements of small businesses…and small money to feed themselves. I’ve tried it by land far away from the refugee camp, and I’ve been trying to move like four hours walking, like four and a half walking to go and farm there, so they can…raise food for themselves. So the situation is worse, the children are malnourished, for elderlies, for very many women who are living alone without their husbands and many of them got married when they were still young. So still the situation is very complex here. So and I was saying that from the time I’ve been here, we have seven month and one hundred families. And with the food that Celestin sent to me specifically, we served twenty families and then others that we could give them half food. So there is a measurement of food, we could give to each family but when families became many and then there are other families, we just started to give them food to share, so…thank you again for supporting, thank you for making this happen, sometime it’s not easy to understand it when you’re not on the ground, but I wanted to thank you for the great heart and be blessed. Thank you.