What would you do if your town became engulfed in war? This Refugee Week we’re speaking to Lonji, who is one of hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled war in DR Congo. Lonji works as a Child Protection Officer with our partner AYWAD, who we work with to provide fair access to justice for women and children in conflict with the law.
With AWYAD, we train Police and Prison Officers and community leaders, like Lonji, in child protection. They learn how to support women and children who have experienced violence, as well as how to keep them safe.
“I like to consider myself a peaceful man. I avoid confrontations of any kind. In South Kivu, DR Congo, I owned a small grocery and drinks shop which supported myself and six children.
But in 2018, I was approached by a few members of my local tribe. They asked me for money, saying they wanted to buy guns so they could force members of a different tribe from “our land”. I refused. I didn’t see any reason to hurt people who had not done anything wrong. But for this, I was branded an enemy of my people.
Shortly after, a group of armed men came to my shop. They accused me of supplying weapons to their enemy! I even recognised some of the men and asked why they were targeting me. But they continued to threaten me. They beat me up and proceeded to tear my shop down to the ground. Everything was destroyed. No amount of planning is enough to overcome the force of war when it comes knocking on your door.
When I returned home, my wife couldn’t speak. My children told me armed men had come to the home – looking for me. To this day, my wife has never told me what happened. But she’s never been the same since. She was traumatised and still suffers violent fits.
I knew we couldn’t stay there. So, with my wife and children, we fled across the border to Uganda.”
We ended up in the Kyaka II refugee settlement and have lived here since. Life here isn’t what it used to be back home. My family is crammed in a mud and wattle house. I live on just one meal a day so that my children can have two – usually just vegetables, beans or maize.
I am worried about the future here. I worry for my children who can’t get an education. I worry my children will resort to crime to survive.
But there are some reasons to be hopeful. Here, I am safe and accepted. People see value in me despite my disability. I’m part of a savings group, and we meet every week. It helps us to cope with the situation. I can speak my mind without judgement.
And I have found some purpose here. I have signed up as a child protection officer in the settlement with Chance for Childhood’s partner, AWYAD. I am the eyes and ears on the ground to keep children safe.
If I hear about child abuse or see children who are at risk of abuse, I report it. I also help to resolve conflict and disputes. I am so pleased to have this work. It helps to keep vulnerable children safe and find justice. And AWYAD pay me a small amount for my work, and have trained me to make and sell clay stoves. Without their support, I don’t know what I would be doing.”
Your support is helping families like Lonji’s, who have had to leave their lives behind and are now refugees in Uganda. Alongside our partners AWYAD and Penal Reform International, we’re raising the standards of access to justice for refugee women and children, ensuring that they can access quality legal support.
£30 could train a community caseworker in psycho-social care, to support vulnerable children and families who have faced war and violence. Will you please make a donation today to support refugees like Lonji?
You can find out more about our work with refugees in Uganda here.
Images copyright Arete on behalf of Chance for Childhood