Reflecting on REFLECT

Davide Prata | January 17, 2017

Refugee women in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania participate in the CWS program. Photo: Davide Prata / CWS

Refugee women in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania participate in the CWS program. Photo: Davide Prata / CWS

It just started to rain here in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in western Tanzania.

I am sitting inside a simple wooden structure covered by a plastic sheet roof. With me are 40 Burundian refugee women who live in the camp, all of whom are proudly involved in a new CWS-led refugee empowerment project.

We are all waiting for the rain to stop, as the sound of it falling on the plastic makes any communication hard to understand.

Over 253,000 refugees – a population similar in size to the city of Orlando, Florida – currently live in three camps in western Tanzania. These are Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendeli. The vast majority of these refugees – over 191,000 – come from Burundi and have arrived in the last year and a half. They fled their country due to the political instability that started in May of 2015.

Last September, CWS started a new project called REFLECT in Nyarugusu. The goal of this program is to help refugee women gain independence and self-reliance. We’re in the first stage now, which is helping ensure that each woman is functionally literate and has basic math skills. The second phase will include other skills and vocational training. That will include classes on tailoring, baking, agriculture and more.

Eventually, the women will be able to establish businesses. That second phase will stem from personalized career development plans that the women develop. Once the women have a plan, CWS and our ACT Alliance partners will be right there with them, helping to make sure they have the financial literacy, business development plan and seed capital needed to grow their businesses.

As the rain begins to wane, the red, dusty soil that is the hallmark of this region has turned into a thick mud that is covering tents, roads and public structures. I can’t help but think about the fact that these women will likely spend years in this environment. For as much as CWS and other organizations have spent countless hours meeting the needs of the swelling refugee population in the camps, these Burundian women will still have to risk their safety to procure firewood, stand in line every day for water and food and take care of their families in the camp.

The reality facing these 80 women – and thousands like them – is harsh, but we are already proud of the results of the REFLECT program. Our team can already understand the potential that it has to improve the lives of refugee women. Helping 80 out of 253,000 refugees is a small drop in an immense bucket, but it is progress. With your support, we will be able to involve more and more vulnerable women in our project.

Davide Prata is the CWS Emergency Coordinator in Tanzania.