In Kiziba camp in western Rwanda, this group is dedicated to the cultivation of vegetables and greens, which are then donated to those in the most vulnerable circumstances, in two community gardens established by the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Alphonese Nsabimana, a 41 year-old refugee, has lived in Kiziba since 1996 when he was forced to flee the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Every Saturday morning, he leaves home early to go to the JRS gardens. Hoe in hand, perspiration running from his forehead, he spends hours taking care of carrots, cabbage and spinach lots. He knows the fruit of his labour will go towards improving the lives of the many older refugees who live alone in the camp in precarious circumstances.
"When I discovered this JRS initiative to give older refugees something more to eat, I said to myself: why wait and always let NGOs help? Why not do my part to help refugees who are worse off than me?" Alphonese said.
Putting others first. Alphonese lives with his wife and four children, the youngest only three years of age. Feeding his own family is the most difficult challenge, since the monthly food rations distributed by the UN agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), are not always enough. Alphonese often looks for odd jobs to earn some money to buy potatoes, tomatoes and other foods not distributed by the WFP.
"Even with the thousands of difficulties, in some way I manage to put food on the table for my children. But the older refugees? How can they get by on their own? Every time we pick vegetables and give them to the older refugees, it's enough to see the appreciation and gratitude in their faces to fill my heart with joy. Inside I feel that I'm doing something that makes a difference in the lives of these people", Alphonese added.
Venantie Nyiramwingo is a 70 year old woman who receives the food from the JRS community garden. With a bag of spinach from JRS, she is happy to know that she will have something nourishing to eat that she would not otherwise be able to afford.
"The corn distributed by the World Food Programme is inedible, it's too tough for me. If I didn't receive this assistance, I don't know what I'd do for vegetables or greens. I'm really happy to know that there are other refugees like me who are busy trying to help those more in need; it makes me feel less alone", Venantie explained.
Community gardens in context. The community garden in Kiziba camp, which hosts some 18,000 Congolese refugees, is part of a larger JRS programme of assistance to those in the most vulnerable circumstances, including older people, the sick, orphans who are household heads and single mothers. In 2011, 329 refugees were provided with food, clothing and other basic goods.
"On the one hand, the community gardens have been able to strengthen our capacity to respond to the needs of those in the most vulnerable circumstances and improve the quality of food for older people, and on the other hand we wanted to involve refugees themselves in taking care of their neighbours and to contribute to sense of solidarity and hospitality in the community. Not only here in this camp but also when they return to Congo to their home villages one day", JRS project director in Kiziba, Deogratias Kimenyi.
Thanks to JRS community awareness activities and the good example of Alphonse Nsabimana and his fellow volunteers, other refugees have contacted those responsible for the project to volunteer in the gardens.
Danilo Giannese, Advocacy and Communications Officer, JRS Great Lakes Africa
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