Monday, 03 June 2024 18:59

UN project empowers refugees in Angola

© UNHCR / Camila I. Geraldo
In the rice fields, smiling faces reflect a new sense of purpose and community. In addition to the harvest, this effort promotes resilience and autonomy in a community that seeks security and wants to provide the next generation with the tools for a dignified and prosperous future.

In the lush fields of Angola’s northeastern Lunda Norte province, a transformative project initiated by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) is not only about cultivating rice, maize, and vegetables – but also nurturing self-reliance and dignity among refugee communities.

With more than 160 refugees actively working the fields through the initiative, and another 110 expected to join soon, the impact resonates far beyond just sustenance for them and their families. It also benefits other refugees and host communities to whom they sell some of the produce.

Led by the indomitable Maman Antho, a former government worker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) turned beacon of female empowerment, the project symbolizes a shift from reliance on international aid towards autonomy.

Duty to cultivate

Her journey from receiving food assistance to leading agricultural self-reliance embodies the essence of refugee empowerment, delivering a powerful message about gender equality and the crucial role women can play in their communities.

"We have a duty to cultivate the land. So, our kids can see their parents work to live. We like taking kids here to show that our staple food comes from our work," said Maman Antho.

"We do not want to depend on humanitarian aid because we know one day it can stop. The times of emergency are over — now it is time for development."

For Emmanuelle Mitte, UNHCR Representative in the African country, Maman Antho is "an example of how, with solidarity, the refugee community can bring dignity and autonomy to their families while supporting the country. Angola is a compassionate nation, and UNHCR works alongside the Government and people of Angola to protect people fleeing war and violence."

More than farming

The resilience of refugees will be celebrated on World Refugee Day on 20 June, highlighting the importance of unity and developing solutions for the integration of forcibly displaced individuals in Angola.

For refugee Jean Bafolo, a devoted father of three children, the project represents more than just farming. It is a pathway to reclaiming pride and self-esteem, enabling him to provide for his family with dignity and resilience.

"I can proudly tell my children that this food comes from my work, from what I do with my hands," said Mr. Bafolo. "And one day, they will continue the work I am doing."

Legacy of hope

Against the backdrop of rolling rice fields on a cloudy day, the sight of smiling faces reflects a newfound sense of purpose and community.

Beyond the harvest, this endeavour feeds not only mouths but also the human spirit, instilling resilience and autonomy in a community striving for a life of dignity and fulfilment, ensuring a legacy of hope and determination to thrive for generations to come.

The projects to integrate refugees into food production in the Lunda Norte province began in 2019 with UNHCR. The initial production, focused solely on vegetable cultivation, took a leap in 2023 when a partnership with WFP allowed rice and maize production to feed the refugee and host communities, encouraged commercial agriculture, and promoted social cohesion.

“Maman Antho and Jean Bafolo’s stories offer a beacon of hope to many other refugees and stand as a testament to their resilience, ambition, and positive contribution to their host communities,” said José Ferrão, WFP Representative in Angola.

“WFP is committed to continuing its collaboration with the Government of Angola and its partners to build a brighter future for refugee and host communities and ensure future generations can flourish and thrive.:

Angola is home to more than 55,000 people in need of international protection. In Lunda Norte, the Lóvua settlement hosts around 6,200 refugees, including the families of Maman Antho and Mr. Bafolo.