First Visit to the Transit Center
There it is: proof that I haven't been making up all of these stories, and that I am actually in Rwanda.
I visited the Transit Center an hour outside of Gisenyi last Friday. We were having our first meeting with the refugees, to hear their concerns and address them.
The Transit Center is the camp to which refugees who have sought asylum from Congo are transferred. They stay here for two days, are given kits that include plastic sheeting, mats, blankets, a kitchen set, felt for women and girls (for their periods) and some food, and are then moved to the large refugee camp in Byumba, two provinces away. However, there are so many Congolese refugees that they haven't been able to make shelter fast enough at the refugee camp. Therefore, people at the transit center have not been moving on--some have been here since April. We're trying as hard as we can to move them to the camp, where conditions are much better.
In an effort to address their concerns, a refugee council (made up men only) and a women's council were formed. They work with UNHCR, MINALOC (the local government), and GTZ (A German organization...I thought it was their equivalent of USAID, but I think I'm wrong) in the administration of the camp.
Yet, because it's not a real camp, we're limited in what we can do. Education, training, sports, employment aid, etc., which are provided mostly by NGOs in the big camps, are not provided here. Most people here were forced to leave their homes so quickly that all they took with them were their family members and the clothes they were wearing. They have nothing more, and no money with which to buy new (or even used) clothes. Some parents, unhappy that their kids were not receiving an education for a year, put their children in the local schools. Only 250 children of the several hundred are in school, and none of them have the money to pay for uniforms, books, or pencils.
There are over a thousand people here (small compared to camps like Byumba, of tens of thousands) but they have not been receiving crucial services. The teenagers, with nothing to do, sleep with each other; one teenager said that he wanted to be tested for AIDS as a result. The small kids, having no toys, play with trash. A string tied in a circle can entertain a child for weeks. One child chased a plastic bottle around the camp.
Soccer is the sport of preference here. Children stuff plastic bags inside another plastic bag until it's hard, and then tie string around it to make a ball. This is what they use to play.
I've decided to try to set up a soccer league. Maybe two teams of children and two teams of teens. I'm going to try to find soccer balls the next time I'm in Kigali. I'm not sure I can find jerseys, though. If anyone is interested in sending jerseys enough for two teams, I would be deeply appreciative. Just send me an email and I'll give you my address! (And hopefully I will be able to take a picture of the teams playing, and post it!)
I'll be working here once or twice a week.