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Changing lives in Mahama refugee camp

Renatha and her newly registered baby

With the current influx of Burundi refugees to Rwanda, Plan International Rwanda is working with more than 29,000 refugees in the newly established Mahama camp and Bugesera and Nyanza reception centres, working mainly in child protection and gender based violence response and prevention.

"I am determined to bring positive change in the lives of Burundi refugees, especially children,” said Judith Mukeshimana, who has been deployed to the newly set up Mahama refugee camp. “It is a new challenge, but I am looking forward to giving it my best.”

The camp is nearly 200 kilometres from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Judith tells of the challenges and rewards of working in the camp, which is receiving some 1,200 Burundi refugees daily.

Together with The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) and other members of Plan International staff, Judith handles new arrivals, places them in tents and makes sure they receive all necessary services.

Plan International staff are also identifying unaccompanied children, ensuring they get all services and overseeing the prevention of gender-based violence.

"We wait for convoys until 9pm and leave the camp at 11pm after placing them in hangars. Sadly, late night arrivals stay hungry and sleep on the ground as there is no food distribution in late hours," said Judith.

Plan International Rwanda has been distributing biscuits and juices to children upon arrival, while their parents queue for food distribution and other services. Maize flour and beans are also being distributed to unaccompanied children before they complete all required procedures and access all services.

"We have reached only 1,000 children below 5 and 988 unaccompanied children, but we are afraid this service might stop due to insufficient resources. We are looking to receiving around 10,000 refugees before this week ends in addition to the current 23,000 we are dealing with," said Casimir Youmbi, Programme Support Manager and Acting Emergency Response Manager.

Plan International Rwanda organises safety briefings to new arrivals, especially children, as Mahama camp is close to Akagera River, which is infested with crocodiles and hippos. Children and youth recreational activities as well as community based discussions around child protection; physical assault and gender-based violence have kick-started.

 “Working in an emergency setting is not easy but when I put down a report of daily activities completed, I appreciate my reason for being deployed to Mahama camp,” said Judith. “Whenever I look at the number of unaccompanied children supported to get basic services, access recreational activities and given snacks as their parents queue to access basic services, I find strength to face any challenges that comes my way.”