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Displaced families in Central African Republic eke through life behind factory walls

Near Bambari in the Central African Republic, thousand of people are forced to live in shacks they have built from sugar cane leaves. Their homes are not too far but they are too frightened to go back. Children are not at school and many of them spend their time helping their families in their daily life responsibilities. (Nadezhna Castellano — Jesuit Refugee Service)
Tuesday, January 03, 2017

(Bambari, Central African Republic) January 2, 2017 — Some two hours from Bambari, the second largest town in the Central African Republic, a group of about 5,000 workers in a sugar factory, fearing for their lives, have occupied the factory. Their homes are less than two kilometers away, but they had to leave them a few months ago, fleeing from machetes and burning houses. Nobody dares return home.

Behind the factory walls, children, young people and adults live in shacks they have built from sugar cane leaves, too frightened to go back. They risk losing their jobs if the factory cannot start the harvest because they occupy the venue, but nobody plans to leave. 

In October school was scheduled to start, and everything was ready: the parents, who believe education is important for their children; the children themselves, who want to return to school; the teachers, whose salaries are paid jointly by the government, the factory and humanitarian organizations; the classrooms, which have recently been renewed… But a mere 300 meters away from the school, a self-proclaimed general uses a Kalashnikov (and less pretty words than mine) to declare that he has no intention of moving from there. So the parents ask us: ‘how can we send our children to school?’ 

Just before starting our journey back to the capital, we heard that another site where displaced people live, in Ngakobo, just one kilometer from the factory, had been attacked. In this scenario, who dares return home? 

Violence has taken control of the Central African Republic and it is difficult to imagine any possible solution. The country is a powder keg and the slightest spark turns into a spiral of violence, be it a herd of cows being stolen or someone from some group being injured in a fight… the consequences are always disproportionate: villages are burnt to the ground in a radius of 40 kilometers, entire communities are massacred with machetes, and hatred and fear grip people’s hearts. It doesn’t matter whether you are a seleka or an anti-balaka or any of the variants of each group. Attempts at peace never materialize and the government is incapable of imposing order. 

The only option left for our children is to attend an improvised ramshackle school where they can seek to continue learning. Because here violence rules, leaving room or nothing else: no education, no development, no peace, no life… 

…and an unanswered question is raised in our hearts: ‘how can we give hope to people bound to live in a factory?’

Nadezhna Castellano

Jesuit Refugee Service Education Specialist