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From the DRC to Rwanda ­– Meet Clementine

My name is Clementine. I am a 40-year-old Congolese refugee living in Mugombwa in Rwanda. I arrived in Rwanda in 2013 with my children.

Portrait of Congolese refugee Clementine Bugenimana smiling, wearing a colourful pattern in the middle of a field.

My journey from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was difficult.

When the war broke out, I was in North Kivu – in Bicanga Village. We had a house, a farm and eight cows, among other things. We fled because a group of people from a different ethnic group burned down our house and looted all our belongings.

We walked through Kirorirwe Forest and then took public transportation to Goma (the Eastern part of DRC). We walked from Goma to the Rwandan border and were warmly welcomed at the reception center on the Rwandan side.

We were moved to the Nkamira reception center. From there, we were transferred to Mugombwa refugee camp

Rebuilding in Rwanda

We live a good life in Mugombwa. I’m a farmer, and when we arrived, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, connected me to the host community. They gave us plots of land and what we grow contributes to the cash assistance we get. Because of this, I’m able to send all my six children to school.

Two people stand hugging each other, laughing and wearing colourful patterns.

Credit: © UNHCR/Samuel Otieno

Working as a farmer means a lot to me. It’s a path to self- reliance and an opportunity to feed my family and meet their basic needs.

ClementineFarmer & Entrepreneur

In Rwanda, I’ve been encouraged to be self-reliant and help other vulnerable women in the camp become expert farmers to cultivate more crops and preserve our way of life. And we are on good terms with the host community, with whom we collaborate on livelihood activities.

The farm doesn’t produce enough due to the size of the land, so what I earn complements the support I get from UNHCR. For example, it helps us get clothes and shoes.

Nowadays, I don’t just farm. UNHCR trained me in different areas – like development and project management. So today, I also earn money through a small shop that I own. We sell rice, corn flour, sugar, salt, beans, cassava flour and oil.

Through UNHCR I learned how to develop my business and sharpen my skills.

ClementineFarmer & Entrepreneur

The feeling of home

We feel at home in Rwanda because the locals actively support us by offering land to grow crops to feed ourselves. We also feel at home because we have access to humanitarian services provided by UNHCR and Government of Rwanda and don’t have to worry about our safety – unlike in the DRC, where only the strongest survive.

Two people stand in a field with arms around each other, holding rakes and wearing colourful clothes.

Credit: © UNHCR/Samuel Otieno

Rwanda means a lot to me; it’s my second home. We have food on the table, I can satisfy my children’s needs, we can sleep without worrying about our security, there are no armed groups or gunshots, and my children have access to education. We also have access to free healthcare.

ClementineFarmer & Entrepreneur

When I think of the DRC, I miss my neighbours the most. We had a happy life together and shared the little food we had, such as cow milk, Irish potatoes, and beans. I have missed my culture, too, and the way we milk our cows together.

What does home mean to me? It’s a place where I have plenty of opportunities to do anything for my family, have enough land to produce, can interact with my cattle and live a relaxed life.

Home also means a place where people can cultivate their own land and live as citizens, where they can freely access services and support each other.

Reaching out

When life gets hard, I pray. Then, I seek assistance from fellow farmers and refugee neighbours. I don’t give up, embrace life lessons, and try to acquire financial support if my family needs it.

A woman stands staring into the distance, holding a rake over her shoulder and wearing colourful clothes.

Credit: © UNHCR/Samuel Otieno

A hard life can drive me to conquer and move forward without fail – and get a loan from savings groups.

ClementineFarmer & Entrepreneur

When I envision the future, I would like to see myself partake in bigger livestock activities where I could own cows. I am motivated to become a businesswoman capable of supporting, feeding, and educating her children – and to become an entrepreneur.

As far as my children are concerned, I want to send them to school so that they can further their studies, fight for their growth and then plan for their future.

Self-reliance is the key

Being a refugee taught me that I must strive to be strong and work hard to achieve success. It has also taught me the importance of integrating into the host community to show that refugee women can accomplish what the host community can – and prove we are totally self-sufficient, take risks and motivate other women to alter their lives.

Credit: © UNHCR/Samuel Otieno

I want people to recognise that refugees, like everyone else, have knowledge, skills, and capacities. In particular, refugee women are mothers with many talents – including farming, financial agriculture, and leadership.

ClementineFarmer & Entrepreneur

I would like people to understand that once refugees become self-reliant, they can contribute to national growth.

If I were to give other refugees advice, I’d say you should work hard to become self-reliant, learn how to save and find opportunities based on your talents and competencies.

Refugees don’t have to depend on humanitarian assistance provided by UNHCR and partners: we have to properly manage the little we have and save for the future.

Credit of all photos of this story: © UNHCR/Samuel Otieno