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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!

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