RWANDA Building a life from scratch

Canizius Ukurikiyimana was only 19-years-old when he was forced to leave Tanzania and resettle in Rugeyo, a small village in Rwanda’s eastern province. He is one of many thousands of Rwandans who were expelled from Tanzania in late 2006, leaving almost everything he worked for and loved behind. For Canizius, this meant his entire family.

Families like his were often split up because the Tanzanian government had an uneven policy of giving out identity cards to some Rwandan refugees and not others. Those who didn’t have them were the first that had to leave.

Born in a village in Karagwe, the western province of Tanzania, Canizius’s family, like many others in the region, raised cattle and occasionally sold milk for a living. On a day like any other, he was in the forest grazing his cows when a group of armed Tanzanian guards approached him and said that he had to leave the country immediately. Canizius, who still lived with his parents, was not given the chance to go back home to inform them that he was being forced to leave.

“I pleaded with them, telling them that I wanted to tell my parents what was happening, but they wouldn’t listen. They had guns, so I couldn’t disagree.”

Canizius is one of the lucky ones because the authorities didn’t seize his cows like they did to many others. Determined to bring his only possessions with him to this new and unknown life, Canizius walked seven days through the forest with his ten cows. He finally reached the border and the Rwandan authorities helped him bring his cows over. He spent his first three months living in a tent at a refugee camp in Cyiyanza, a small town in Rwanda’s east, with his cows at a nearby farm.

Leaving the camp, Canizius arrived in the resettlement village of Rugeyo in April of 2007 to begin his new life with 1,600 other repatriated refugees under the assistance of CARE Rwanda.

Local CARE staff provided instructions on how to build basic semi-permanent accommodations to people like Canizius who had never built a house before. “I built this beautiful place myself last July,” said Canizius, chuckling, gesturing to his four-metre circular mud hut. “It only took me one week.” Canizius’s house is a round hut similar to the other 100 or so that dot the landscape in Rugeyo. The base is made of mud, straw and water, and the roof out of dried husks.

CARE also helped the repatriates learn how to cultivate the fields for food by providing instructions and seeds to plant.

But like everyone in the village, Canizius has problems of too much sun, not enough rain, and wild animals eating the crops at night, all which negatively affecting his food supply.

When Canizius talks about what the future might have in store for him, he says that he wants to get married in the next three or four years. He also hopes the problem of the wild animals eating his crops be solved by local government officials, so that he can have a more successful harvest than last year.

In Rugeyo, there are eleven boys 21-years-old and younger who were forced out of Tanzania without their parents and had to start their lives over again from scratch.

Canizius has an easy-going manner, appearing to only have light-hearted cares on his mind. He has accepted his new way of life in Rugeyo, even though it has forced him to grow up faster than he would have otherwise.