A Bowl Of Ugali And An Uncertain Future In North Kivu

The conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has wrested children from their families and homes. Today, they count among the most vulnerable of the tens of thousands of displaced people in the region. Some have found refuge at the Don Bosco Center, a Catholic institution in Noth Kivu's provincial capital of Goma, where WFP is providing school meals. 

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Fourteen-year-old Anouarite is certain she'll be going home soon, back to her family in Rugari, a small farming town about 35 kilometres north of Goma, North Kivu's provincial capital. Back to the home she fled months ago, after armed men attacked her neighbors, raping women and stealing crops.

"I was afraid of being raped too, so I went to Kanyaruchinya," she says, naming a camp for people displaced by years of fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kanyaruchinya now lies empty. Scraps of garbage testify to its former residents, uprooted yet again by the latest surge of conflict in November. Some ended up in other camps closer to Goma. Others, like Anouarite, found shelter at the Don Bosco Centre, a Catholic school here.

Today, Don Bosco's students are back and the displaced people have left — either to camps or to resurrect shattered lives back home. All are gone, that is, except for some 90 unaccompanied children like Anouarite, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. They are receiving WFP food rations as humanitarian workers search for their families.

"The Red Cross is making enquiries to try to unify them," says Don Bosco's director, Father Piero Gavioli. "I think the majority will go home. For the others, we'll keep them here until we can find a solution."

Anouarite found strength in numbers. At Kanyaruchinya, she lived with other unaccompanied children in a large hangar provided by humanitarian agencies. "I did nothing but beg for food, vegetables and potatoes from the fields," she says.

As the fighting drew near, her group of friends headed by foot to Goma, some 10 kilometres away.

"Life is good here, because there's food and water," says Anouarite, scooping up a hefty lunchtime portion of sauce and ugali, a thick paste of WFP-provided maize meal that Don Bosco's children eat at lunchtime.

 preparing maizShe gets news of her family from Rugari residents traveling to Goma. They are well, she says, although armed men shot one young nephew dead.

Now, Anouarite is waiting for Red Cross transportation to take her back. Like most here, she faces an uncertain future.

"I'd like to study," she says, "but my family can't afford to send me to school."