Learning to live without fear
Life as a Burundian refugee
Burundi has seen an upsurge in violence and instability over the past four years - with some 390,000 Burundians living as refugees in neighbouring states. DR Congo is home to 43,000 of them. The vast majority of Burundian refugees live in camps and settlements in the South Kivu province - camps like Mulongwe.
War Child works inside Mulongwe refugee camp to meet the urgent needs of children and youth. Many of these children have witnessed acts of extreme violence on their journeys to safety - and carry with them feelings of fear and anxiety
Samuel (8) is one of the many Burundian refugee children living in Mulongwe camp
Photo: Jeppe Schilder
We help children inside Mulongwe camp process their traumatic experiences
Photo: Jeppe Schilder
Journey to safety
Samuel is eight years old - and his story is sadly typical of the children who call the camp home. Samuel was just seven when armed men came to his house one night. His father was forced to lay down on the floor and threatened with a knife. Samuel saw it all unfold in front of him - and the memories continue to haunt him.
"The rest of us were very afraid,” he recalls. “We all ran away - my mother, brother and sisters. We were hiding when our father later found us. The mob had stripped him of his clothes."
The family escaped to DR Congo - where they spent their first six months in refugee camp with no running water or electricity. Food was rationed and the children were beset by nightmares.
Dealing with adversity
Samuel now takes part in War Child’s emergency response programme inside Mulongwe camp. The programme allows children like Samuel to participate in psychosocial support activities designed to help them process their traumatic experiences and protect them from further harm.
Participating children learn how to deal with adversity and resolve conflicts and disagreements without resorting to violence. Creative activities such as music and dance serve to build their resilience and foster positive attitudes.
Samuel’s mother Jeanne has certainly noticed a difference since he joined the programme. “He was previously very angry and withdrawn,” she comments. “But he has learned to open up. I see a happier child now.”
Text and photos: Jeppe Schilder