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Liberee’s story: genocide survivor working for WFP

As a child, she received emergency nutritional support from the World Food Programme where she is now a monitor helping Burundian refugees
, Livia Hengel
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Liberee Kayumba's traumatic experience during the genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda inspired her to make a difference in the lives of others. Photo: WFP/Jonathan Eng

Liberee Kayumba, a survivor of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, has seen the horrors of war first-hand. She was only 12 years old when she lost her parents and brothers in the genocide – a trauma that was further compounded by the immediate risk of starvation.

“I spent three months inside my house not knowing if I would survive until the next hour,” she says. “No one in my family could leave to work or farm [during the genocide], so accessing food was very difficult. We couldn’t have survived without humanitarian food assistance.”

Her experience inspired her to join the World Food Programme (WFP) help make a difference in the lives of others. Having once been a direct beneficiary of life-saving food assistance from WFP, she now works as a monitoring officer for the organization in the Mahama Refugee Camp, a few kilometres from the border with Tanzania, which provides monthly food distributions to nearly 60,000 Burundian refugees.

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The Mahama Camp provides monthly food distributions to nearly 60,000 Burundian refugees. Photo: WFP/Jonathan Eng

“Since I was a child, I wanted to help people in need,” she says. “It gives you another heart when you have seen people kill other people and witnessed all the suffering. The memories from the genocide and all those people in need of help motivated me [to join WFP]”. Kayumba not only feels the pain and suffering of fellow refugees, but she also understands the fundamental role food plays for vulnerable communities fleeing from conflict.

“Food is always a life-saving requirement during and following conflict,” says Liberee. “During and immediately after the genocide, food availability was every survivor’s prayer. When we received food assistance from WFP, we rejoiced. I will never forget the yellow maize meal, or pâte jaune, which we ate during this period. I will also never forget the 'USA'-branded fortified oil and high-energy biscuits, all distributed by WFP to save our lives.”

In the wake of the genocide, WFP distributed emergency food assistance to people in need. WFP still provides life-saving humanitarian food and nutrition assistance to approximately 138,000 refugees from neighboring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the organization also provides technical assistance to the government and other stakeholders to strengthen food systems against increasing volatility and climate shocks. This ensures that affordable and sustainable healthy diets are available to all, and it helps improves farmers’ livelihoods throughout the entire food value chain. WFP also supports the government to scale-up nutritious and locally sourced school meals to students across Rwanda.

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WFP provides food assistance, school meals and nutrition programmes for under-5s at the Mahama camp. Photo: WFP/Jonathan Eng

Speaking from experience, Liberee understands that “when a family’s food insecurity is addressed, tension is reduced.” Rwanda has achieved significant progress since the mid-Nineties. The country has seen increased food production, better health and educational facilities, and an improved quality of life.

“Peace and reconciliation prevail,” says Liberee. She adds: “To me, peace means freedom, tranquility and liberty. Peace is relief after going through a traumatizing situation or a conflict.”

Liberee is pleased WFP was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

The entire world now understands that humanitarian food assistance plays a critical role not only in conflict/disaster-affected populations but also in partnering with governments across the globe contributing to achieving zero hunger,” she says. 

Today, Liberee’s greatest wish to share her good fortune with others. “I am now at peace because the genocide stopped – I survived, I’m not afraid of being killed,” she says. “I went on to complete my university education and can now provide access to food and good educational opportunities for my children.

“And as a WFP employee, I feel very proud and motivated to do my work with enthusiasm, having in mind that my role is being recognized.”

Learn more about WFP's work in Rwanda