Note: This post was was written in Kirundi and translated by Aline’s coworker, Roben. Read the original here.
My name is Aline Fernicka. I am a Burundian refugee and a former GiveDirectly recipient. I currently work as a Field Officer at GiveDirectly in Kigali, Rwanda registering recipients in our programs so that they can receive unconditional cash transfers and get over the poverty line.
My family fled Burundi for Rwanda in 2015
I was born in Burundi, the 7th of 10 children. I moved to Rwanda in July 2015, when I was 18, with five of my siblings to escape from violence caused by the fight between people who wanted the incumbent president to remain in power and others who wanted him to leave. After coming to Rwanda, we lived a hard life as refugees because it was not easy to find a residence that could accommodate all of us. We split up to live with different families and could no longer live together. It was sad knowing that we will never see ourselves at the same table with our siblings, laughing together.
Then, in December of that year, our mother and our older brother came over to Kigali, and life became even harder because no one would accept accommodating a parent and all her children. So, as the older children in the family, we started searching for jobs so that we could survive.
Fortunately, my younger brother got a job as a night waiter in a bar, and my older sister found work helping Burundian refugee children adapt to the unusual situation in a new country. However, I did not find a job. So, with the small amount of money my siblings were earning, we rented a one-bedroom apartment for all of us: boys, girls, and our mother were sleeping together in the same room with dishes, pans, and a stove.
We did not have a mattress or bed sheets; life was very hard.
At that time, our mother was very stressed, and it was hard for her to adapt to these changes. She started suffering from asthma attacks, and it was not easy to get her medication until we learned about the African Humanitarian Action (AHA), a UNHCR partner that provides treatment to sick refugees. They helped us to get our mother treated, and they continue to help us whenever she is very sick.
The government of Rwanda also helped us get refugee ID which we needed to receive social health insurance. We are thankful to the government for the support because life is hard when you leave all your belongings in your country and go to another country to start life with nothing. Slowly, we got used to the new and difficult life, and by God’s help, we were alive.
When the pandemic struck, cash transfers were a lifeline
When the coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020, the whole world was quarantined, and everyone had to stay home. No one could think of helping you because life was difficult for everyone. Life seemed to stop. In that hard time, we struggled to pay for food and rent. A year later, we were still wondering where we would get the money to pay for those needs. Then, in May, we received a call saying that there is support for urban refugees whose life was affected by COVID-19.
That was my first time hearing about GiveDirectly.
At first, we thought they were con-artists; but a few weeks later, we received the first transfer of $46, we knew that they were a serious organization. In July, we received our final installment of $107. At that time, my mother had contracted COVID-19, so we used the first transfer to buy her asthma medications, food, and fruits that were recommended by doctors to help with her treatment.
Now I’m able to help others escape poverty for a living
Despite the emergency relief payments, we were facing life difficulties because of COVID-19. I applied to more job openings than I can even remember. The following August, I was recommended by a friend of mine who knew that GiveDirectly was looking for field officers. I sent my resume to the HR Manager and waited. Fortunately, I was shortlisted, passed the interview, and was chosen among the successful candidates. In the same month, I started to work as a remote field officer.
I understand the impact of receiving cash support in difficult times firsthand. As a GiveDirectly employee, I do my best to register 20 recipients or more per day so that they can get over the poverty line and improve their lives as well.
You cannot imagine the happiness and hope that a recipient gets when they receive cash to improve their lives. They have hope of a better future for their children and their family. Last month, I had a call with a woman named Appolinarie that I was registering in one of our programs. She told me that she will use GiveDirectly’s transfer to pay for her son’s school fees because she wants him to achieve things she didn’t achieve.
For me, GiveDirectly is not only a workplace but also a wide family. Everyone in the team is friendly and cares about each other regardless of their positions, and there are other coworkers who are also refugees.
I continue to wish peace and security for our hosting country, Rwanda. May God provide it with sustainable development. We are grateful that GiveDirectly thought about us and helped us because it would not be easy if we had not received the COVID-19 support when our mother contracted the virus. We also thank those families that accommodated us when we came to Kigali with nothing because it’s not everyone that can accommodate refugees when they have their own big families too.
About GiveDirectly’s Rwanda Urban Refugee program:
This program provided aid to poor households most affected by the country’s pandemic lockdown in the urban areas of Huye and Kigali. Most recipients lost their livelihoods due to containment measures. The program provided each household with 153,100 Rwandan francs (~$152 USD) in two installments over 30 days payments and ran from June through to November of this year. . We reached over 4,411 refugees and 2,533 households. With an average household size of 4.5 individuals, that’s approximately 31,248 people.