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Tanzania, 1 September 2015: Piecing back a child’s life torn apart

By Anne Boher

After fleeing violence and abuse in Burundi, a young refugee girl in Tanzania must raise her daughter – and hold on to her own hope of returning to school.

KIGOMA, Tanzania, 1 September 2015 – One-year-old Leila wakes up crying and looks around for her mother. Annoyed at first for being interrupted, Anick, 15, gently picks up her daughter and starts humming a sweet song in Kirundi, her native language. Baby Leila immediately stops her sobbing.

© UNICEF Tanzania/2015/Beechey
Sisters Anick (left) and Anne-Marie (right) on a mat outside their tent in the Nyarugusu refugee camp, north of Kigoma, Tanzania, with their babies Leila and Enock, both 1 year old.

 
Anick and her sister, Anne-Marie, 13, are orphans, refugees and mothers. Over a year ago, in their home country of Burundi, they were raped on the same day by members of a youth militia.

They both became pregnant and gave birth – Anick to Leila, and Anne-Marie to Enock, a smiling little boy.

When violence flared up in Burundi earlier this year, the sisters fled to Tanzania. During their frantic escape, they met a woman, Gloria, and her children, with whom they shared whatever they had.

Once they eventually arrived in Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania, they insisted on staying together, and they are now living like any other family – doing their daily routine, taking care of the children, fetching water, cleaning the tent and preparing food.
 

A mother’s guidance

The Nyarangusu refugee camp shelters more than 90,000 Burundian refugees – a majority of them children under 18 years old.

While many have family that can take the children in, Anick and Anne-Marie lost much of their extended family in Burundi. They now rely on the help of their foster mother and social welfare officers.

Sometimes, Gloria takes the time talk about their concerns, providing guidance as a mother. “She said, ‘We will only part ways when you’ll decide to.’ We are thankful to her,”Anick says.

They also receive assistance and psychological support from UNICEF and its child protection partners, in partnership with the Government of Tanzania.

Identifying and providing services to vulnerable children is one of the biggest challenges faced by humanitarian workers responding to the refugee crisis that has hit the Great Lakes region.

As of late June, more than 2,600 child refugees in Nyagurusu camp were registered as unaccompanied or separated from their families and at increased risk of violence and abuse.

Violet Molel is one of the government social welfare officers who has been deployed to the camp since the early stage of the crisis.

© UNICEF Tanzania/2015/Beechey
A child on the swingset in one of the seven Child Friendly Spaces opened by UNICEF in the Nyarugusu refugee camp.

 
“Being away from your normal home, being separated from family you used to be with – it’s tormenting for children. Most of them are going through trauma,” she says. “They have witnessed the killing of their parents or caregivers. They have witnessed other people being killed, and maybe all the bad things that happened to their relatives or neighbors.”
 

A safe environment

For these children, UNICEF and its partners make sure to place the child in a family and to provide training to foster parents, as well as counselling services to children.

“The bigger challenge is missing the love the warmth and all what we think is important for the well-being and welfare of the child,” Ms. Molel says. “The first solution is to make sure that we get a family to place the child, so that [he or she] can feel like part of the family and not like [he or she] is living alone.”

Children and the families looking after them are given material assistance, help in accessing school, and counseling to support their emotional and psychological well-being. Following up with children in new families is also an important focus, as the children may be emotionally vulnerable as they face trauma and grieve the loss of loved ones.

Play is an important part of the psychological support offered to children. In partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), UNICEF opened seven Child Friendly Spaces in the Nyarugusu camp, with more than 9,500 children from age 3 enrolled so far.

Daily activities are held in a safe and stimulating environment, including sessions on personal and food hygiene and specialized referral services for children with behavioural issues – or for those who, like Anick and Anne-Marie, may need extra support.

“I don’t want to go back to Burundi, there is no one there for us. We don’t even have a place to stay, because they took it from us,” anick says. “Life here is good, because we have a house, we get services and we get food. We are thankful.”

Despite facing hardships she never imagined, Anick remains hopeful. “Once my child grows up, I am thinking of going back to school. I really want to be a teacher,”she whispers, taking little Leila into her arms to tenderly rock her.

UNICEF is appealing for US$5.3 million to meet the dire needs of children and families affected by the refugee crisis in Tanzania.

 

 
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