China joins hunger fight:

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - FRONT PAGE - Garikai Mazara

WERE it not for the roam­ing and preda­tory rep­tiles called crocodiles, res­i­dents at Ton­gog­ara Refugee Camp would lit­er­ally live in the mighty Save River, cush­ion­ing them­selves from the swel­ter­ing heat that char­ac­terise the Mid­dle Sabi.

But the heat, which on the day in ques­tion could have eas­ily tipped 34 on the mer­cury scales, is the least of their wor­ries. Com­ing from the DRC, So­ma­lia, Ethiopia, Bu­rundi, Rwanda, coun­tries whose av­er­age trop­i­cal cli­matic con­di­tions make the Mid­dle Sabi feel like some po­lar re­gion, their im­me­di­ate wor­ries are usu­ally wel­fare-re­lated.

China Aid, a grow­ing brand in global hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, was in town and the refugees, some 13 000 of them drawn from across 15 na­tion­al­i­ties, could, at least for the day, en­dure the heat, wait­ing for what­ever good news the Chi­nese were bring­ing.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment re­cently do­nated $2 mil­lion to Ton­gog­ara Refugee Camp and Tues­day’s cer­e­mony was to hand-over part of the do­na­tion.

The World Food Pro­gramme, the im­ple­ment­ing part­ner, rep­re­sented by Mr Niels Balzer, the deputy coun­try di­rec­tor, was in at­ten­dance.

So were other UN agen­cies and other non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions that are thriv­ing to make the life of the refugees bear­able on a day-to-day ba­sis.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, through China Aid, was rep­re­sented by the Chi­nese Em­bassy, of which the Eco­nom­ics and Com­mer­cial Coun­sel­lor, Mr Chen Ning, was the guest of hon­our. Zim­babwe is await­ing the sec­ond­ment of an am­bas­sador af­ter the ex­piry of the term of Mr Huang Ping.

In his open­ing re­marks, Mr Jo­han Mh­langa, the camp ad­min­is­tra­tor, out­lined the myr­iad of chal­lenges that faces the refugee camp, but said they were not in­sur­mount­able, es­pe­cially with the help of the many or­gan­i­sa­tions that read­ily of­fer their sup­port, try­ing to make the lives of the refugees as bear­able as pos­si­ble.

To this end, every month, the refugees re­ceive a cash stipend of $13 per head to meet in­ci­den­tal needs.

Mr Balzer said the cash pay-outs go a long way in help­ing restor­ing dig­nity in the lives of refugees.

“With this sup­port, WFP is able to pro­vide food as well as cash, al­low­ing you to do what fam­i­lies around the world do every day — de­cide to­gether as a fam­ily what goods to pur­chase and em­pow­er­ing the lo­cal econ­omy,” he said.

Be­sides the cash hand-outs, the res­i­dents of the camp re­ceive a range of kind dona­tions, rang­ing from blan­kets, mos­quito nets, san­i­tary pads, to con­sum­ables like rice, cook­ing oil and cow peas.

Mr Ning said the hand-over cer­e­mony re­minded him of a sim­i­lar event 20 years ago in China when a poverty-stricken vil­lage was re­ceiv­ing a school from a UN de­vel­op­ment agency.

“Decades have passed and tremen­dous changes have taken place in China, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has taken its peo­ple on a rapid de­vel­op­ment that leads to growth in all sec­tors of so­ci­ety and peo­ple’s liveli­hoods,” he re­marked.

To this end, he said the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is ever-ready to as­sist Zim­babwe in re­al­is­ing some of its SDGs, es­pe­cially achiev­ing zero hunger.

Ini­tially founded as a re­search sta­tion, the refugee camp has un­der­gone some in­ter­est­ing changes over the years. In 1979, when Rhode­sia signed the Lan­caster House agree­ment that ceased hos­til­i­ties with the lib­er­a­tion move­ments, the camp be­came a de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion cen­tre.

Dur­ing this pe­riod when Vice Pres­i­dent Con­stantino Chi­wengwa was camp com­man­der, the re­search sta­tion was re­named Ton­gog­ara, in rev­er­ence of the army com­man­der who had just been killed in a road ac­ci­dent on the eve of the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence.

Soon af­ter the de­mo­bil­i­sa­tion, the camp closed.

Then in 1984, as hos­til­i­ties between Re­n­amo and the Mozam­bi­can gov­ern­ment es­ca­lated, the camp re-opened to take in Mozam­bi­cans who were flee­ing the con­flict. In 1994, with the sign­ing of a peace ac­cord between the war­ring par­ties in Mozam­bique, the refugee camp was closed down as the refugees made their way back home. It was dur­ing this pe­riod that the refugee pop­u­la­tion at the camp peaked 50 000.

To share the in­flux of Mozam­bi­can refugees dur­ing this time, Ton­gog­ara op­er­ated along­side Chambuta in Chiredzi, Nyan­gombe in Nyanga and Ma­zowe River Bridge.

Af­ter the suc­cess­ful repa­tri­a­tion of Mozam­bi­can na­tion­als, the Ton­gog­ara Refugee Camp closed in 1995, and for the com­ing two years was used as a cen­tre for the dis­abled.

Then in 1998, a civil war erupted in the Great Lakes re­gion and the camp opened again, now as a refugee re­treat cen­tre. The long­est-serv­ing res­i­dents at the camp to­day have been res­i­dent there since that 1998 con­flict.

Ly­ing on some 870 hectares, the refugee camp en­gages the res­i­dents in self­help projects like soap-mak­ing, arts and crafts, pig­gery and ir­ri­gation schemes, so that their liveli­hoods are not en­tirely re­liant on donor-fund­ing.

At the con­clu­sion of the long-day tour of the camp, Mr Ning pledged the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to help up­grade St Michael’s Sec­ondary School to Ad­vanced Level sta­tus.

“I urge the camp ad­min­is­tra­tor, with the as­sis­tance of the de­vel­op­ment part­ners here, to make a pro­posal to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment through the rel­e­vant chan­nels and we are keen to as­sist with the up­grad­ing of this school. We have al­ready built a num­ber of schools around Zim­babwe and there is no rea­son why we should not build one with such a wor­thy cause,” he said.

With an en­rol­ment of 705, the sec­ondary school has plans to take in A-Level stu­dents so that the refugees can con­tinue with their ed­u­ca­tion at the camp.

The sec­ondary school feeds from Ton­gog­ara Pri­mary School, with a stag­ger­ing en­rol­ment of 1 900.

Mr Niels Balzer, the deputy coun­try di­rec­tor for World Food Pro­gramme (with neck-tie) and Mr Chen Ning, Eco­nom­ics and Com­mer­cial Coun­sel­lor at the Chi­nese Em­bassy, hand over goods to refugees at Ton­gog­ara Refugee Camp on Tues­day

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