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Running from violence

Lutheran Disaster Response works through partners in CAR

When Fredd (last name withheld) and his family fled their village in the Central African Republic (CAR), they spent the first night in a friend’s field about 6 miles away. Among them were several children, including three under 5 months old. His family was one of many to flee widespread fighting.

They are among 2.5 million people—more than half the population of this country — in need of humanitarian aid, which Lutherans and others are trying to provide. But the needs are great. A famine is developing. Human rights violations, including targeted killings, rapes, torture, arbitrary arrests and the recruitment of child soldiers, have been reported.

The U.N. estimates that about 935,000 people have been forced from their homes. While some have found refuge in churches, others live in the bush and run when the conflict nears. 

Fredd and his family are Christians. They were hiding in the bush when a Muslim man warned them that the Séléka (a largely Muslim rebel alliance) had been told that those on the village’s east side were Christian, while those to the west were Muslim. “We decided to walk under the cover of darkness through the bush to the west side of town,” Fredd said. 

Hearing heavy gunfire behind them, the family continued walking to the next village. “The older children, including my 8-year-old daughter, all walked, while we carried the smaller ones,” Fredd said.

They walked through the next day and night. By then Fredd’s wife had a high fever. “We wrapped her in thick cloth, but she was still trembling very hard and complaining of cold,” he said. “We knew she had malaria.”

Fredd began to worry. What if she died? Would he have to leave her body behind? The group placed her by a small fire and prayed. After a couple of hours, she felt better and could walk again. “This was a miracle,”he said.

Twelve days later, the family finally came to a clinic where she could be treated. Fredd is grateful: “Had it not been for the Muslim man … I might not be telling this story.”

The Séléka seized Bangui, CAR’s capital, in March, overthrowing former president Francois Bozizé, who took power in a 2003 coup. The group is now referred to as ex-Séléka rebels because the alliance has officially, but not actively or effectively, disbanded.

A mostly Christian alliance, known as the anti-Balaka and formed in response to the Séléka, has also played a large role in the attacks. While both tend to be labeled by their religions, the fighting isn’t bound by the lines of religious war. The conflict is seen as a result of political power and economic grievances. 

The ELCA ‘gave us rice’

Lutheran Disaster Response works with the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic (EELRCA) to provide food and clothing to people who have been displaced within the country, and to build peace and reconciliation between Muslim and Christian communities.  

In early February, despite security and personal safety risks, the EELRCA and the main mosque in the Haoussa neighborhood of Bouar, CAR, distributed rice, vegetable oil and clothing to more than 10,000 people — more than half of whom were children. 

“Many people have lost everything,” said André Golike, EELRCA president.

Golike has heard people express their gratitude for the ELCA’s assistance, thanks to a long-standing partnership. “When you live and share in people’s lives, you know them and understand what they need,” he said. “Others give us soy, which is not something we eat very often. Our partner (the ELCA) gave us rice. … This is what we eat.”

Working through the LWF, Lutheran Disaster Response also provided psychosocial support, protection, hygiene and sanitation materials, and other supplies. Such aid is difficult to deliver, however, due to the continuing violence and lack of security.  

Many refugees have made their way to LWF-run refugee camps in surrounding countries. At Camp Dosseye in southern Chad (home to about 16,000 people, mainly refugees from CAR) the LWF works in partnership with the U.N. to build shelters and infrastructure, carry out vocational training
and more.


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