When Evariste Mfaume, 46, visited a communal farm in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the women stopped working and greeted him with songs and dancing. A field of bright green cassava plants was the fruit of their labour.

“We are so grateful to Evariste because he worked really hard for us to get this farmland,” says Ungwa Sangani, a Congolese farmer.

For years, Evariste has been championing the rights of Congolese people displaced by conflict, but also for refugees and their host communities. He advocates that they be given land to farm to help them earn an income and rebuild their lives.

"When you give someone access to land, you have given them power,” says Evariste.

Land means identity, it means you belong. It helps tackle discrimination and brings communities closer together. It will help educate their children, give them food and a living."

World Food Day on 16 October is dedicated to raising awareness about the need to tackle hunger. Right now, over 820 million people globally do not have enough to eat.

Congolese rights activist, Evariste Mfaume, talks to farmers at Lusenda settlement, Democratic Republic of the Congo. © UNHCR/J. Wessels

People fleeing war or persecution often suffer high rates of malnutrition, sickness and even death. With little or no financial resources, many displaced families live well below the poverty line and struggle to put food on the table.

Livelihoods projects, such as farming, is just one way UNHCR ensures displaced families have access to enough food. It is essential to protecting their safety, health and well-being. For people suffering from malnutrition, UNHCR provides urgent medical care and life-saving therapeutic foods.

Find out how UNHCR is delivering care and treatment for malnourished children >>

Evariste is the regional winner for Africa for the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award. The prestigious annual prize honours those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support refugees and displaced people.

In 2003, Mfaume founded Solidarity of Volunteers for Humanity in his home region of South Kivu, which has seen years of turmoil and violence.

“I have witnessed people getting killed, women getting raped and people’s property looted and destroyed,” says Evariste, who has himself been displaced several times with his wife and children.

“But as a human being, I felt, within me that call, the human dignity, to channel my energy into doing something.”

“We had nowhere to stay, no food to eat and no income. We were so happy to find this place to live." Evariste talks with returnee, Mariamu Ezekiel, in the peace village in Lusenda settlement. © UNHCR/J. Wessels

He began to report on human rights violations first in Congo, then in neighbouring countries. While in Tanzania’s Nyarugusu camp, he met many Congolese refugees who yearned for home but did not have places to return to.

“When you return to your country as a displaced person and you are unable to find a place where you can restart life, you are in a state of confusion,” he says.

The Congolese and refugee farmers from Burundi who work on the cassava farm are a case in point. A total of 150 farmers have found a path to rebuild through the farm.

Everiste has also advocated to allocate vacant land in the bush for returnees, leading to the creation of “peace villages” in South Kivu. Since 2006, over 19,000 families have returned to these villages to rebuild their lives.

“The areas were forests. Seeing them now, developed and full of people gives me hope and strength to continue doing this work,” he says.

Access to farmland has helped displaced Congolese families earn an income and put food on the table. © UNHCR/J. Wessels

Claudine Nyanzira benefits from the farming project. She initially struggled in Lusenda refugee camp in eastern Congo after she fled Burundi in 2015.

“Life was very difficult because we didn’t have a lot of food or clothes,” says the 29-year-old. “So when this farming project started, I was so happy to be a part of it.”

Claudine, who is seven months pregnant, is looking forward to the harvest that will help her family.

“We will take the harvested cassava to the flour mill and the money we make from it will help us pay school fees for our children.”

Mfaume is determined to continue his life’s work and help others.

“I have a purpose within me and as long as I’m here, I will continue working,” he says. “When I take my last breath, whatever I have done will be enough.”

You can help displaced families recover and rebuild
Find out more

"When I heard about this farming project, I was eager to be part of it because it will bring us Burundians and Congolese together." Claudine sings and dances at Lusenda settlement. © UNHCR/J. Wessels

Share this:

facebook twitter

You can help

Make a donation

Every donation makes a real and lasting difference in the lives of refugees.

Organise a fundraiser

Host a bake sale, climb a mountain or do a fun run to raise funds for vital aid.