It was on our latest field trip to the Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement that we met Miriam. In fear for the lives of her five children, she fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2012 in search for “a better life without war”. Miriam and her children walked for several days to reach the Ugandan border. On arrival, they were put in a bus headed to Rwamwanja in the Ugandan district of Kamwenge. At the settlement’s reception centre, they were registered, underwent a health screening and given a hot meal. The family was then allocated land and given a distribution of non-food items. Miriam’s husband later joined the family, and now, 5 years later, with 2 more children, Miriam and her family reside on the same piece of land in a small mud hut.
With more and more people arriving we were forced to divide our land and now we don’t grow anything. The soil is bad; we don’t have anything to eat, we live on food distributions but I would never go back to Congo because even if we still don’t have anything, here I can at least sleep all night.
It is clear that the situation is not sustainable. With the unrealistic hope that households that have lived longer within the settlement are more adapted and economically secure, the quantity of food distributions begin to reduce. It is therefore not surprising that Miriam’s family among thousands of others, suffer from chronic malnutrition.
But there is hope. This New Year brings the start of the USAID-funded "Graduating to resilience project (2017-2024)", implemented by AVSI in consortium with Trickle Up and IMPAQ International. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Office of Food for Peace (FFP), this uniquely Ugandan model helps women and their households graduate out of poverty and sustain improvement works. It provides Ugandan policy makers, especially government, with a cost-effective tool to change the historical trend and eradicate poverty from Uganda. How? By using AVSI's Graduation Approach, successfully implemented by Ugandan SCORE (Sustainable COmprehensive REsponses) model, and targeting women and youth, this activity will increase levels of knowledge around nutrition, health and hygiene and encourage behaviour changes, which are supported by group dynamics and changing cultural norms and practices.
Additionally, integrated risk management will address household specific risks as well as regional and environmental risks that will build the capacity of households and communities to prepare for and cope with health and climate shocks which contribute to instability and undermine progress. Over the next seven years, the AVSI Consortium will work with 13,200 households that are economically active but chronically unable to meet their basic needs without some form of assistance. Miriam’s household is one of the 6,600 refugee households along with another 6,600 local Ugandan households that will benefit from this program.
As we drove down the dusty dirt track back to Kampala, four more buses carrying hundreds of refugees drove into base camp. With nearly 1.4 million refugees living in Uganda, including 225,000 coming from the DRC, the refugee crisis remains a reality and current responses are just not adequate. The "Graduating to resilience" project provides a unique opportunity to test a combination of elements of the Graduation Approach for impact and cost-effectiveness while tackling underlying causes of food insecurity and vulnerability to shocks and stresses, in order to find a truly sustainable solution to this worldwide problem.