Children playing at Gihembe camp, in the Northern Province of Rwanda, home to over 14,500 refugees. The majority of them arrived at the camp in 1996 from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are entirely dependent on WFP food assistance.
After 18 years of receiving a monthly in-kind food basket from WFP, the residents of Gihembe camp are now receiving cash via their mobile phones to meet their food needs. The programme is supported by the generosity of donors including ECHO, USAID and the Governments of Canada and Switzerland.
WFP provided 3,500 mobile phone handsets to the heads of households in the camp to facilitate the electronic money transfer through partnership with financial institutions, using the mVisa technology provided by VISA Inc. Each refugee receives RWF 6,300 (US$9) per month to cater for food needs. WFP deposits the entitlements with the bank, which then credits each beneficiary account (mobile number), and the refugee families then receive a confirmatory text message showing the credit to their account.
WFP’s cash programme in Gihembe is implemented in close partnership with UNHCR, the Rwandan government ministry in charge of refugee’s affairs (MIDIMAR), World Vision Rwanda and VISA Inc. Feedback from beneficiaries is crucial, and a toll-free complaints and feedback line was set up for the refugees to contact WFP directly in case of any problems.
Beneficiaries can either buy food directly from traders that are registered with mVISA or withdraw cash. Transactions are from phone to phone, meaning that beneficiaries can buy anything from the registered trader using their phones at no charge. If they want to withdraw cash, they can do so from any mVISA agents in the field. WFP meets the costs of the first withdrawal each month.
For Alfred Habumukiza, 23, the new cash programme has allowed him to pursue his dream of opening a shop. He is one of several traders who have opened new businesses in the camp since January. “I am a registered mVisa agent as well as a beneficiary. When everyone gets their money, business is good and I have a lot of customers.” Habumukiza’s shop is not only stocked high with traditional food items, such as maize, beans, oil and salt, but also other ‘luxury items’ such as pasta, rice and biscuits.
It’s not just people’s diets that have diversified but also their businesses, such as this one set up to charge mobile phones. The initiative has also improved refugees' access to communication, which allows them to contact friends and relatives outside the camp as well as receive additional money from them via their mobile phones.
The introduction of the cash programme has also had an unexpected environmental benefit as the amount of firewood used every month in the camp has almost halved. People used to cook their beans for several hours, but now access to fresh pulses instead of dried ones has shortened the cooking time substantially.
In addition to the cash transfer, the most vulnerable people -- including children under 2 years old, HIV/AIDS patients on anti-retroviral therapy, pregnant women and nursing mothers -- receive additional supplementary food to meet their nutritional needs. In the last six months, the prevalence rate of anaemia has already dropped by almost 30 percent, according to the American Refugee Committee (ARC), the nutrition implementing partner in Gihembe camp.
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