Life in the Mtendeli Refugee Camp: Esperance Balingayao
We fled our home in the middle of the night when we heard that government militias were entering neighbouring villages and people started disappearing. I was on my own with my six children as my husband had already fled earlier with his second wife. We left everything behind, carrying only what we absolutely needed. If they see you walking with your belongings, they know you are leaving and they might kill you for it. We walked throughout the night without a light, only following the small paths in front of us.
“I remembered the way very well as this was
the third time that we had to leave our home
in Burundi and flee to the camps in Tanzania.”
From our home, it takes you two full days to get to the Tanzanian border on foot. You have to use the small paths because you might be caught walking on the main roads. After sunrise, we just continued walking until the evening. The paths take you through forests and over mountains. Sometimes we even had to cross rivers.
In the evening, we found a small hut of a family who took us in and provided shelter for us until the morning. The next day, we reached the border late in the afternoon where Tanzanian immigration officers took our details. We waited three more days at the border until we could board a bus which took us and other refugee families to the Mtendeli Camp.
“The biggest challenge for us was that we did not
travel with any food. The journey is far and we all
suffered from hunger. Some of my children are
still very young, so sometimes I had to carry them.”
LIFE IN THE CAMP
We arrived in the Mtendeli camp in September 2017 and were provided two makeshift tents made from UNHCR tarps. One tent is for my husband and myself and the other for our six children and two orphans we took into our care.
Life in the camp is hard. We are farmers but we are not able to plant any crops in the camp apart from a few maize plants between our tents. We depend on monthly food rations provided by the World Food Program, which are not enough to feed the whole family. Recently, they even reduced those rations which has made the situation even more difficult.
Getting water is also a big problem. We are only allowed to get water from the public taps in the camp but there are always long lines of people waiting their turn to collect water.
“Some days, we are unable to collect any
water at all. So the next day, you have to
really fight to get your water.”
If we fail to get water in the camp, we are forced to collect from the river outside the camp.
However, as refugees, we are not allowed to leave the camp unless we ask for a special pass to leave, which can be difficult to get. As we are not supposed to leave, we also can’t trade with the surrounding communities and there are no real income opportunities inside the camp.
While camp life is difficult, I am happy that we can send our children to school as there is a primary and secondary school in the camp. There is also a hospital where we can get treatment if one of us becomes ill. We feel mostly safe in the camp but I get really worried when the Tanzanian government says that the Burundian refugees should go back home claiming that the situation in our country is now stable. I am in touch with relatives who
remained in Burundi and I know that it is not safe for us to return. Honestly, I don’t think the situation will ever be safe for us to go back.
“We have fled three times already. We are so
exhausted and we can’t ever imagine
returning to Burundi.”
RESILIENCE THROUGH WEAVING
We have a strong weaving tradition in our region in Burundi. My mother taught me how to weave when I was thirteen years old. Today, I am so happy to have an income through my weaving as part of WomenCraft and to be able to provide for my family in the camp. I joined WomenCraft’s weaving group in the camp from the very beginning. I saw some of the products they brought and really loved the designs and the high quality of the products. The first samples I made were challenging as I didn’t know the designs and I had never used moulds before. But I decided to open my heart to the challenge and quickly mastered the new techniques. I worked hard and was selected to be the leader of our group of 50 artisans.
“I am proud about my weaving and I am so
happy to be leading our group to help artisans
grow and produce our high quality products.”
My family is proud of me as well. They know that weaving is now my job and that we can improve our lives in the camp through my income. We use our income to buy food to supplement the insufficient food rations and we buy decent clothes and soap. I am also saving some of my income to invest it into establishing a small breakfast place in the camp where we will serve tea and local doughnuts. All I want in the future is for me and my family to live in a place that is safe and peaceful. Even remaining in the camp is ok for us as long as we have the weaving opportunity.
“I am so excited to be able to sell my products
to customers around the world and we have to
work hard to keep our customers happy
and to continue to place orders.”