Kiziba Refugee Camp resides in the hilltops of Karongi District in western Rwanda. Over 17,000
Congolese refugees live in the camp, many of whom fled unrest in the Democratic Republic of
the Congo twenty years ago, and many others who were born in the camp and have spent their
entire lives there.
The residents of Kiziba are incredibly resilient. In the midst of small food rations,
unemployment, and poor education opportunities they still come together and find ways to grow
and support one another.
Last year, we visited Kiziba with a Discovery Team of students from Asbury University. Our
friend Benjamin Mudahera, who supports refugees in Kiziba, invited us to meet with a group of
men and women who were learning English together in a weekly club that meets in the camp’s
library. We spent a few hours in conversation with the members of the English club, allowing
them to ask us questions about ourselves, tell us about life in Kiziba, and practice their English
conversation skills. It was an amazing experience to be hosted by such lovely and joyful people
who live in such hopeless circumstances.
This year, however, we were not allowed to visit our friends in Kiziba. After already bare-bone
cash rations that the refugees receive for food were further cut down earlier this year due to low
humanitarian funding, the refugees marched several miles to the nearest UNHCR office to
protest and were not received well. In the months since, Rwanda has increased the level of
security in the camp, and the presence of police in the camp has continued to cause unrest and,
ironically, a sense of heightened fear and insecurity among the refugees who just want their
voices to be heard.
So, this year when the new Discovery Team came, Benjamin told us that we would not be able to
visit Kiziba. But we still wanted to “be with” our friends there in some way. Benjamin took us to
a small restaurant where we ate the same portion of beans and maize that the refugees would be
able to purchase with their cash ration for their single daily meal.
Although we were disappointed that we could not visit our friends in Kiziba, it was a powerful
experience to eat what they eat and walk where they walk, if only for a single day. Annie, the
WMF Rwanda Short-term Programs Coordinator said that this felt more like “true fasting” than
she had ever experienced before. It connected us to our friends in a small way and allowed us to
more fully pray for them and their struggle throughout the day. This fast—where we ate like
refugees for a day—allowed us to experience real compassion for those for whom this is daily
This World Refugee Day we ask that you pray for refugees—in Kiziba and around the world. They have dreams and hopes, but often lack the freedom and dignity to have their voices heard.
May we all live as advocates to our friends on the margins.