Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kiziba Refugee Camp

by Emily Gorz

Today was definitely a change of scenery. After coming to call Moucecore in Kigali "home" we woke up in Kibuye, a city in the western province of Rwanda.  Though kind of missing Kigali, we were excited none the less because we all are in agreement of how much we love Kibuye. Our guesthouse is right on Lake Kivu, and as I type this I can see the lake right through our window.

Lake Kivu, seen on the way to Kiziba
Since the rooms we stayed in on Monday night were not available for tonight, we had to pack up our stuff in order to switch rooms. After moving our stuff to reception we loaded back up into our jeeps and made the 45 minute drive to the Kiziba Refugee Camp. While the camp really isn't that far away, the time spent driving is thanks to the crazy bumpy roads and the fact that we are basically in the mountains. The roads were zig-zagging all through the mountains and we were thrown around in the jeep like rag dolls. While the roads were kind of scary (there were no safety rails on the edges of the roads so we could easily fall to our death) it was fun, like a roller coaster! But we were completely safe at all times, as our leaders would never put us in danger. On the bright side, we got to see Rwanda from a whole new perspective and got to witness God's crazy-nutso creation.

Charging Cell phones

We pulled up the the camp and we had to wait to be let in until the president of the camp could confirm that he was expecting us. When we entered the camp we pulled up to where we were greeted by the members of the GCM organization. We were led into a meeting room and got introduced to Emil, the president and Natalie, the vice president of GCM. They explained their two main ministries in the camp. The first being a cell-phone charging station where a single charge costs 100 RWF, and the second being a barber shop/salon thing. Both of these ministries utilize a large generator. While they sound like weird things to work on in a refugee camp, all the revenue made from these projects goes towards internal improvements in the camp like gardens to produce crops. Lately, there has been a lot of drama in the camp surrounding the cell-phone charging business. Another person bought a bigger, newer generator and was stealing customers away from the GCM by drastically cutting prices. This other generator business was just for profit and by taking away customers from GCM was limiting the amount of improvements that they could make in the camp. In a stroke of luck, the other generator broke allowing all the customers to go back to GCM. God sure works in strange ways.

Jen with Emile, president of GCM (christian youth mission) in Kiziba
After a quick tour of the central part of the camp we broke off into groups to explore the rest of the camp. Each group had a chaperone from GCM that led the way. Jen, Bryce and I were led by Emil. He showed us the market and then brought us into his home in the camp where we were introduced too many of his siblings. We talked for a long time about basically anything. We learned a little bit about Emil's life and how we has been in the refugee camp 15 years after leaving the Congo with his family.  Also we got around to discussing his views on President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He says he really like both of them because they went against the odds by running and didn't let their disadvantages stop them from trying to achieve their goals. This seemed to be a common theme for Emil, as we continued our conversation. He shared with us that the vice president of the whole camp must be a woman. When we asked why this is, he explained that it promotes a sort of gender equality in the camp. Girls in the camp will see the potential to be the vice president and work hard in school. It sort of sets the tone for the girls in the camp in that way. This was really interesting to me considering how male-dominated this society is. Emil seems very dedicated to allowing everyone the same opportunities. In his own way, he's changing the social structure of the camp by advocating for the girls and for moderating debates between the school boys and girls about gender equality.

School children clamor to get in a photo with Doug
The camp is holding about 20,000 refugee, half of which are under the age of 15. So when school was let out, literally a sea of children in blue school uniforms surrounded us. They were eager to try their English out on us and were fascinated by the camera and bubbles we brought along to the camp. We were able to see the water source they have and were shown the churches and buildings. Today was a special day because 25 wedding were happening in one of the churches so much of the camp was involved in that. The 25 weddings pretty much happend simultaneously and we got to see the wedding parties as they left.

Jill talks with some members of the GCM youth group
After the tours we went back to the first meeting room where we met the president of the whole camp. He was shockingly young but still commanded the room and seemed to be respected by everyone. After welcoming us, he stressed the importance of our advocacy for the camp back home. He really highlighted the need for the camps education. The combined efforts of the UNHCR and a Jesuit organization gives the refugee kids education the way up to P 9 (which is the equivalent of 8th grade here). However, having nothing to do with themselves from age 14 on, many of the teens turn to drugs, prostitution and violence. The president impressed on us that having education for these teens would really prevent a lot of these social problems from happening in the camp. We learned that a way we can solve this problem is by sponsoring a child through International Teams and encouraging others to do so.

One side of the Kiziba Refugee Camp
The camp as a whole is nothing like any of us ever expected. During debriefing tonight we talked about how we expected their to be fence around it and for it to be surrounded by tents. That was not the case at all. We actually learned that the refugees can come and go as they please out of the camp, however the catch is that with out a Rwandan ID card they cannot really do much. Additionally, the camp is located at the top of a mountain, which means that though people are "free", they are stuck, trapped by natural geographical boundaries that keep the vast majority of the camp from ever entering town. Serge also brought up the point that there is no need for a fence or a gate because the people there do not want to become Rwandan. All they really want is to return to their home, which for almost every refugee is the Congo. The camp seems to be more like a community then a transitional place to live. This is sort of bittersweet, good because of the fact that its a relatively stable place to live, but bad in the sense that there is pretty much no way that any of them will get to go back to the Congo. In this very moment, violence is happening in the Congo where 3 million have been killed by the very forces that fled from Rwanda.

The Kiziba refugee camp as seen from the access road
We left the camp at about 4 p.m. It ended being about 6 hours spent there and we were crazy exhausted in the jeep ride to the Kibuye guesthouse. When we got back we were moved to a new set of rooms that are really really really really nice. Then I was met with a tough decision. To either swim in Lake Kivu or to blog. I hope everyone can forgive me that I went swimming instead of blogging :). Lindsey, Darby, Bryce, Doug and I headed down to the lake and swam, we saw some Germans sitting on the rocks. They were being party-poopers and would not come swimming with us, and with that we went to dinner.

Serge stops to chop some wood in the camp
After dinner, Serge got to tell us his story. He was born in the Congo, but had Rwandan heritage and spoke Kinyarwandan. Because of this, his family faced a lot of social problems and the ethnic Congolese would tell them that they didn't belong. When tensions started rising before the genocide, Serge knew that there was a chance that he would be killed by geociders. He felt like his best chance at survival was to go against his parents wishes and join the RPF. With out telling his family, Serge left home at age 17 to join the RPF. He trained in the RPF during the genocide, but after the genocide died down he realized that he wouldn't just be allowed to leave the military. Serge ended up serving 11 and a half years even though he never wanted to make the military his career. In the years after his service Serge went to University, had a son, moved his whole family to Rwanda and worked to support them. Serge also worked very closely to President Kagame as a presidential guard. He got to travel the world accompanying the president and with his higher wages, was able to send it back to his family. Jen later came to Kigali from international Teams- Canada and her and Serge got along really well. Then in about a year they got married! They have three awesome kids, Prince, Isabella and Benny who we all adore. By learning Serge's story I think we got a much clearer picture of his life now. Speaking for the group, this knowledge just made me respect and value Serge more as a guide, Christian and person in general. We will definitely miss him when we leave, among the tons of incredible people we were blessed enough to meet.

Speaking of us leaving, it's not far away anymore. And I really can't believe how the months preceding and the last two weeks flew by. Even though we will be physically leaving on Thursday, I know that we are not done with our service and relationships, because part of our hearts will be in Rwanda.

Wow. That was a really long post!


  1. These posts are amazing!! Yours was very long, but I am so happy and proud of everything you are doing! you are all really amazing for the things you have done in the past two weeks! I have prayed for you guys every night! love you and miss you! i hope your last few days continue to be as inspiring!
    safe travels!
    Katie E.

  2. Emily, I was so excited to read your post. Your descriptions are amazing, and it was fun to see your sense of humor come through. You are loved very much and we can't wait to see you and hear more of your stories and see your pictures. Opa, Oma, Aunt Carole and Lori are all following the blog and are proud and amazed. Love, Mom xoxo. P.S. I am "name dropping" all over the place like crazy. The ladies at Citibank send their regards to you as well as Doug! :-)

  3. We have been living your mission with you through your blogs. Kinda sorry it has to end but your mission will continue as you live out your lives. We are proud of you now as we were when you were 'our' 7th graders. God bless you and have a safe trip home. Ray and Nancy

  4. thanks to the helpers,great thanks to any support,continue to hold our arms.

  5. may be one day God will attend to his mission.may be one day we will be removed in difficulties.