Visiting refugees

refugee camp

It is 8 Am and I am leaving  behind the bustling streets of Kigali as we set off to visit one of the refugee camps. The refugees are World Food Programme’s ‘raison d’etre’ for being here and I am eager to visit one for the first time. The camps host refugees who fled their country after an upsurge in violence in Eastern Congo in 1996. Up to date, the conflict has costs the lives of over 5 million souls over a shameless scramble for resources and the number is only geared to go up. Visiting the camps makes me lightly touch upon the grim reality that is enfolding 200 km East of me.

My job is to perform a market assessment to see if instead of giving food WFP could give cash to refugees. Instead of transporting bags of food across the region, cash vouchers allow refugees to buy from local shops around. This gives them more freedom of choice whilst at the same time investing money in the local economy surrounding the camp. The reality of the day is that they re-sell part of the food they are receiving.

refugee camp market

As the bible already foretold ‘man cannot live by bread alone’. Walking around the market that refugees set up, I am surprised to find items like cosmetics, lotions and new clothing being sold. When I pause for a second and think about it, this only shows me how much alike we are. Regardless of the horror they have been through, refugees like any other person just want to look good in the hope of finding the right partner instead of merely counting the number of calories they intake.

Changing food for cash might just allow for this bit of more dignity and freedom of choice on the part of the refugees, but at the same time could potentially increase drinking, house violence, and price hikes in the local market surro

walking around the camp

unding the camps. The assessment needs to weigh the pro’s against the con’s and try to find smart ways to minimize the risks involved. In the weeks to come I hope to get a better understanding of the camp reality and see how this interacts with local markets surrounding the camps. Food or Cash I don’t know, but as I roll down my window of the car and the sun brightens my face I do know I like my job.


  • I had my first earthquake.. While the whole city was woken up by the earthquake around 5:30, I was still peacefully asleep… I am yet to find another person that also slept through this apparently well felt shock…
  • I rode a waterski, its like a motorbike on the water just with more bumps:)
  • ‘Dying like a nigerian’ means to fake it, referencing to the third’s largest film industry ‘Nollywood’ in Nigeria where they for a lack of having modern equipment ‘slowmotion’ an action scene by moving really slowly and overly faking being shot taking a good 10 seconds before actually dropping to the ground..
  • I went for a weekend trip with my colleagues to Burundi which was tons of fun

    amstel bokbier

  • They have Amstel ‘bokbier’ here, in Burundi it is a very popular drink. The only problem is that when you order a bottle you always get 2 as one is considered to little and they happily refill without asking, so think twice before you order ‘a’ bottle…
  • The older lady sitting across my desk already calls me her son…
  • plastic bags keeping the flies at bay

    In some restaurants they hang plastic bags with water at the ceiling to keep the flies away

  • I tried to get a permit to visit the last remaining gorilla’s on earth together with Bas when he comes over to visit me in August, but these are already completely  sold-out until November…

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About Janno

A young development worker in Africa
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4 Responses to Visiting refugees

  1. Brooke says:

    Great blog post Janno! I learn something new every time I read one of your posts. Sounds like you’re doing lots of great things and adapting well 🙂 Brooke

  2. Winnie says:

    Hi, you’re a piece of work, you know that? dying like a nigerian. lol ! But I think the work you’re doing’s pretty cool. If you asked me, a good way to help the refugees would be to give them life skills like farming. They use the seeds that UN provides rather than giving money or food on a daily bases…hope you are spreading the gospel coz many may give you smile but they’re dealing with serious wounds and pain so kip’t Jesus

  3. Anonymous says:

    He man, ik lees net pas je blog, hopeloos laat, maja, de vakantie is begonnen dus tijd genoeg om zaken als deze in te halen (en onze reis voor te bereiden!!!). Geniaal dat ‘dying like a Nigerian’, gaan we oefenen! PS. die vluchtelingen hebben het vast zwaar, maar over het uitzicht vanuit hun kamp hebben ze in ieder geval niet te klagen! Als er een huisje vrijkomt… 😉

    • Anonymous says:

      Hoi Janno,
      Beter laat dan nooit !?
      Als je zo’n kindje uit een kamp mee kan nemen…je weet ons te wonen!
      Het was leuk je even te horen op de familiedag.
      Een goede tijd daar!

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