Uganda: By Providing Food Assistance, WFP Helps Refugees Rebuild Their Lives

Kalamba Jezele eats lunch with her family. Copyright: WFP/Irene Renee Angeyo

In Uganda, the World Food Programme has been helping refugees from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for years. In recent months, as conflict flared again, more desperate families crossed the border. WFP provides life-saving hot food and monthly rations in transit camps and settlements, enabling refugees to work on improving their own situations. 

KYANGWALI, Uganda – Kalamba Jezele’s life was ripped asunder by the ebb-and-flow of conflict in eastern DRC. Her husband was killed in clashes between government troops and rebels, and with no means to feed her three sons, she decided to seek refuge across the border in Uganda. 

She arrived at a transit centre in December 2008, and that very first evening the family enjoyed a hot meal of rice and beans from WFP, which has for years provided food assistance to thousands of people driven from their homes in DRC’s east by a plethora of armed groups and the poverty and destruction they leave in their wake. 

Two months later, the family moved to the Kyangwali refugee settlement, where they continued to receive rations from WFP.

Jezele credits the assistance she received from WFP, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the Ugandan government, with saving her life and the lives of her sons. This assistance gave her the courage and energy to seek ways to improve the family’s circumstances. 

“I was able to turn my life around because of the guarantee of food from WFP. Without the food, we would have died of hunger since even if we cultivate our small plot of land to supplement the food from WFP, sometimes our efforts are frustrated by the unfavourable weather,” said Jezele, who hails from Rutshuru in North Kivu.

For asylum seekers and refugees like Jezele, WFP food assistance is usually the only source of nutritious food until they are able to provide for themselves, mostly using land provided by the government. 

Refugees receive hot meals in the transit centres and WFP provides monthly food rations in the settlements. There are around 190,000 refugees in three transit centres and eight refugee settlements in north, west and southwest Uganda. 

"Thank You"

Since arriving in Kyangwali, Jezele has worked hard to better her situation. From the sale of crops grown on land provided by the government, she bought a hen, which hatched chicks. She sold the chicks to buy a goat, which had two kids.

“I sold the two goats and combined all the money with the cash from the chickens and bought materials for constructing an iron-roofed house. The hen died during an epidemic but I continued rearing the goats, and bought another hen later. I now have six goats and a hen that lays eggs.”

The United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Switzerland and the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund help WFP support refugees in Uganda. 

It’s a costly operation, with needs regularly pushed higher by the stop-start conflicts in nearby states. Most of the refugees came from the DRC over the past five years, but Uganda also hosts refugees from South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia. 

In November, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) announced a new contribution of GBP 3.3 million (US$ 5.3 million) to support assistance to refugees from the DRC. The contribution will enable WFP to buy grain in the region to support an estimated 105,000 refugees for three months.

“I am very grateful to WFP for the food assistance given to my family. I feel it’s a sign of love and concern for my family,” Jezele said. “I request that the donors continue to give food assistance to us.”

Story by Irene Renee Angeyo, WFP Field Monitor Assistant in Mbarara, western Uganda.