AMH is an independent media house free from political ties or outside influence. We have four newspapers: The Zimbabwe Independent, a business weekly published every Friday, The Standard, a weekly published every Sunday, and Southern and NewsDay, our daily newspapers. Each has an online edition.

  • Marketing
  • Digital Marketing Manager: tmutambara@alphamedia.co.zw
  • Tel: (04) 771722/3
  • Online Advertising
  • Digital@alphamedia.co.zw
  • Web Development
  • jmanyenyere@alphamedia.co.zw

Life of refugees at Tongogara Refugee Camp

Tongogara Refugee Camp

“Before Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) came into this camp, I was always full of stress and anger,” claimed Elina (26), a refugee staying at Tongogara Refugee Camp in Chipinge.

“There was no place where one could go and relieve stress

“With the role I was given as a community supporter, I can now interact with others in the community and this has helped me address my anger issues through speaking with the MSF psychologist.”

She is one of the community supporters and has been living in the camp since she was six years old when her family fled Rwanda.

She grew up with unresolved anger and bitterness after facing discrimination at a nearby local school.

Mentally, her experience had a toll on her and that was made worse by the fact that she was living far away from her homeland.

Tongogara Refugee Camp is a remote place in Chipinge, south-east of Zimbabwe, where over 15 000 people live.

Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Refugee Day on Tuesday in honour of people who have been forced to flee.

This year’s theme was Hope away from Home. A world where refugees are always included.

Most of the refugees at the Tongogara camp come from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mozambique, Burundi and Rwanda, where they fled traumatic events including war, rape and torture.

For some of the refugees, the camp is the only home they have known for years, having been born and bred there.

As a result, they have become long-stayers, without access to jobs and other income-generating activities to rebuild their lives.

Prolonged idleness causes distress, a feeling of hopelessness, anxiety and stress has been taking a toll on many of the inmates.

Last year, MSF launched a mental health intervention at Tongogara Refugee Camp.

The programme seeks to improve refugees’ coping skills and resilience, with community participation, empowerment, and resilience-building activities like sewing clubs, sporting activities, peer support, and psychological first aid.

“The burden of unaddressed grief, loss, trauma and depression was visible whilst talking with most of the refugees during an anthropological assessment,” said Janet Mukurumbira, MSF mental health activity manager at Tongogara Refugee Camp.

“The refugees overwhelmingly reported experiencing uncertainty and lack of control over their current life and future.

“The passivity of life in refugee camps aggravated feelings of meaninglessness and powerlessness.”

MSF has built a centre for psycho-social wellbeing, named Baobab House by the community for the tree’s resilience in harsh weather conditions.

Refugees from the camp painted the mural of the centre, telling a story of what the centre means to them.

The centre provides psychosocial support and is a conducive platform for recreational activities with shared ownership by the community.

“We realised that their psychosocial pain would be lessened by the creation of fulfilling and empowering activities and promoted social interactions among themselves to break the cycle of anxiety and boredom which triggers depression,” Mukurumbira said.

The project uses community engagement as a key strategy to involve community leaders, young people and community team members from all age groups.

As community champions supporting the health promotion, they encouraged community buy-in and awareness of the services offered at  the centre.

Through this approach, community members are supported to rebuild their social networks and support structures and find some relief from their trauma, stress and depression.

Andrea (23), another refugee who fled war in DRC, recounted the torture and physical pain they suffered back home. He described how being at Baobab House gives him a sense of belonging.

Andrea likes participating in music and now teaches others how to play a guitar and a piano.

“Baobab House is my safe haven,” Andrea said.

“The activities here are mind-soothing. I used to feel so lonely and anxious, but music has helped me to express and find myself. I got healed of depression and stress.”

Conflict and unrest in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region — in the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea — have displaced large numbers of people who have moved to Tongogara Refugee Camp.

Under Zimbabwean law, refugees are obliged to stay in the camp and are not permitted to work outside its boundaries.

Related Topics