Total Pageviews

Monday, August 26, 2013

Giving and receiving

Now there are already 2,400 displaced, and I fear the numbers will increase as the situation in the country continues to be precarious. This week in the capital Bangui there was shooting and looting and at least one dozen people were killed. But also in the rest of the country there is no peace. In Bohong (80km apart from Bouar), a parish which belongs to our diocese, the shooting and the pillaged forces the priests and religious sisters to leave the place. One of the priests, abbé Michel, went 80 km on foot. In Beboura (about 150 km apart from Bozoum) also many people were killed. The first displaced are now arriving to Bozoum. Here in Bozoum this week we were able to start to provide relief supplies to the refugees. In spite of a bridge which was blocked by a military truck that had fallen over we have received significant supplies of food stuff and other goods. Thanks to UNICEF and HRC we have received a truckload of the most urgent goods: 600 blankets, 600 mosquito nets, 600 plastic awning, 600 canisters, 4520 pieces of soap, 300 hygiene kits and 300 kitchen kits. The food stuff was provided by the World Food Program: cornflour, salt, dried peas and oil. Two truckloads… But the main challenge is to distribute the foodstuff to the families in accordance with the number of their members. But with patience (both on the part of the refugees and on the part of the parish volunteers) the displaced have received a bit of help which allows them to look into the future with a little more hope.
Thanks to UNICEF, HCR and World Food Program. Thanks to ACF (Action contre la Faim), which is in charge of the logistics. Thanks to all who are by some means or other trying to do something, like Nejamin, Robert… Great thanks to all volunteers, who have been working with courage and love. And thanks also to the displaced, as a smile from the little ones, the women and men is Good News.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

A great gift

These days we received a great gift: The visit of the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga. He is one of the few people in the country who raise their voices against injustice and violence. He is the president of the Episcopal Conference and of Caritas. He brought us the solidarity of the Church and gave us great encouragement.  He came here to examine the situation of the 2,400 displaced people who abandoned  their villages along the Bozoum-Bossangoa road to get to Bouzom.
On Saturday we started with a meeting with the delegates of the eight villages, who presented their situation and their needs. Their most urgent need is peace and security. But then also healthcare, food, shelter… At 10 AM we met with one of the few officials who remained in the city. However, he does not have any power, as everything has been taken over by the rebels, who are doing whatever they want, and who are even controlling the judicial system.
At 11 AM we met the Chadian Consul, as many rebels are coming from his country. Afterwards we met the colonel of the rebels. We talked and talked – and even this is already something. I explained to them why we have come, and asked them to leave these villages in peace and to release the captives.
In the afternoon we visited some families. Almost all the displaced persons had been taken in by relatives or friends. In one family there have arrived 38 persons.
At 3 PM we met these internal refugees. More than 500 attended the meeting.
Sunday, 19th of August
We started the day with the celebration of the Holy Mass, presided by the Archbishop. I had feared that because of the change in the schedule not so many people would attend Mass, but the church was overcrowded. The Archbishop accompanied us by his prayers and helped us to believe and to hope.
At 9 AM, right after Holy Mass, we hit the road. I went first with my car, as the Archbishop was escorted by Gabonese soldiers of the FOMAC. I feared the people might flee at the sight of the soldiers.
I stopped in Voudou. The rebels were gathering there and invited me. I could not refuse their invitation. They were just collecting their arms (the old guns made out of water pipes). I tried to calm down the people, because the rebels who had caused so much trouble came from Bossangoa, not from Bozoum. After some 10 minutes the Archbishop also arrived, met the people and encouraged them.
We went to Bossa, where the rebels had killed one person (who, by the way, was handicapped).  The inhabitants of the village were hiding and did not come out until they understood it was only us. While we were talking, the rebels arrived. The people fled in panic. I told them to stay calm and slowly, slowly they decided to stay.
In Bodalo, an abandoned village, there was not a living soul. Only when we were returning did we meet 4 (four!) persons.
In Kemo there are still people around, but they are terrified. Some of them had been tied up and beaten. We crossed the river to meet the rebels – the very worst ones. The colonel was lounging around on a chair. He spoke only Arabic. The vice-colonel translated the conversation. We said we had come to visit the villages where the violence and the massacres had taken place. The colonel replied, that this was not true and nothing happened. I made him repeat this twice.
When we left their „base“, on the other side of the street the inhabitants of the village were waiting. We approached them and encouraged them.
Then we left the Archbishop who was still to go to Bossangoa. We returned to Bozoum – somewhat encouraged and hopeful, but also with deep sadness. What we had seen, is just a tiny part of the pain and the suffering the country has been going through for five month. And while we are here, the self-proclaimed president is sworn into office in Bangui. There are so many doubts and so many questions!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Great things in Bozoum

Great things in Bozoum: the visit of the Archbishop of Bangui, Nzapalainga Dieudonné, who is also the president of Caritas and the President of the Episcopal Conference.
He come bring the solidarity of Christians of Bangui, and to be close to the 2,400 displaced people who have fled their villages because of the killings perpetrated by the rebel of Seleka.
Saturday, August 17,
8h 30 meeting with the delegates of the 8 villages
10h 30 meeting with an officer of the Gendarmerie
11h 00 meeting with the consul of Chad and the rebel commander
14h 00: visit to one of the families hosting refugees (only at one of them, the refugees are 38)
15h 00 meeting with over 530 refugees
7h 00 Mass
9h departure for the area of events ...


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A difficult week

Sunday in August… Here in Central Africa we are right in the middle of the rainy season, which is also the period of cultivating the crops. Many families are in the fields the whole week, cultivating peanuts, maize, millet, manioc and rice – and returning to their villages just for a short break on Saturday and Sunday.
Last Sunday after the Holy Mass an assistant catechist came from Bossa village and brought us bad news: The rebels of the Seleka had come and killed at least 5 people. A five month baby died in the arms of the catechist, and the people could do nothing to save it! He told me that many people had fled from their villages in order to reach Bozoum. The distance  is  65 to 115 kilometres. And the people go on foot!
We are starting to organize ourselves. I informed the parish volunteers and the office of the United Nations in Bangui. On Tuesday morning we meet representatives of the villages, from which the people have fled (Bossa, Bódalo, Kemo, Ouham Bac, Bowe, Bouassi und Bodala, all of them located along the road from Bozoum to Bossangoa which is 140 km apart). We are gathering information and helping them to organize themselves  and to create a list of the refugees, comprising the names of the parents and the number of the children of each family. At the moment there are 331 adults and 589 children, 920 persons all together, but there are more refugees to come.
On Tuesday afternoon we gathered with 400 refugees. Also an official from the UN coordination office of humanitarian affairs attended the meeting. The displaced described their situation and expressed the most urgent needs: medical care, mattresses, rain protecting shelters. We were listening to their needs and taking notes. In the meantime each village elected three persons (among them one woman) as their representatives and persons of reference.
On Wednesday we went to Bossangoa. On the first 65 kilometres everything was ok. But at Bossa we entered the affected area: Here about one dozen of villages have been completely abandoned. It is terrible: They are big villages of 200-300 houses, but no human being is anymore there!
In one village we noticed a movement and we stopped there. A terrified woman fled at our sight.  We shouted that we were not armed, and finally about one dozen of people came out and greeted us. This was Wikamo village, where the rebels had killed one person and hurt another.
But the worst situation is in Ouham Bac. There people, motorcycles and cars pass the river by a ferry. Here the rebels threw in the river the bodies of those killed by them. The exact number is unknown, but the rebels of the Seleka must have killed c. 30 – 40 persons.
We encounter the rebels at the exit of the village. There is just one road, but they ask me where we are going… Then one of them, who seems to be the head of the rebels, approaches us. He speaks nothing but Arabic. I continue to speak Sango: If he does not understand it, he can go back home to his country! He grumbles a bit but let’s us pass.
At Bossangoa, a big city half of which has been destroyed by the rebels, we are meeting a priest, a teacher from Ouham Bac (the rebels have hit his head and the wounds are still there) as well as the responsible for the governmental schools. The situation is very difficult: The schools have not been functioning since March.  However, the exams take place, but the students are coming to the classes from the bush, where they had taken refuge 5 months ago.
On Thursday morning we are once again meeting with the representatives of the villages in order to collect all the data which will enable us to distribute a voucher to all families on Monday the 12th. This will facilitate the aid distribution.  This week we want to start the medical care in our dispensary and we hope the UNO and other NGOs will soon also act.
When families leave their villages it is serious. But if they leave behind the fields right in the middle of the rainy season, it means they do not have hope anymore.
This is why we are here together with the volunteers from the parish and others, who simply receive the refugees. Here no refugee camps are needed: Friends, acquaintances, relatives – all try to extend a helpful hand to them. But it is very hard!