Making the difficult decision to leave family: An African father’s story

Publicado: 12 septiembre 2015 8:00 CET

By: Nelly Muluka, IFRC

Ange Konfyeyane, 58, a widower and father of 12 children, is a volunteer with the Central African Red Cross. Inspired by the story of Henry Dunant, the Swiss businessman who helped create the international organization, Ange joined the local Red Cross committee in Poua in 2008, where he was trained in first aid.

“Personnel from the local Red Cross came to my village to tell us about the work of the Red Cross. They shared with us the story of Henry Dunant. I was touched and I immediately registered as a volunteer,” says Ange.

As a widower, single-handedly looking after his children was challenging. Ange made the difficult decision to leave his children in the care of his eldest, and moved more than 600 kilometres away, to the capital of Bangui, where he became a volunteer security guard at the Red Cross. The little stipend he received as a volunteer, he used to support his family back home, up until 5 December 2013, when armed conflict broke out.

“On that fateful day, many people had been seriously injured and needed our support. With many volunteers also affected or displaced, there was an urgent need for manpower. I took my jacket and joined the team for what, to me, remains one of the most risky response missions that we have ever undertaken,” says Ange.

In a charged and fragile environment, Ange and other volunteers gathered bodies and provided them dignified burials. They gave first aid to people who were injured and transferred critical cases to the Henry Dunant health facility at the Red Cross headquarters; a facility which was already stretched to its limit with patients.

The conflict hits close to home

The following week, Ange received a call from his 23-year-old son in Poua, informing him that all of his children had been displaced, household items had been looted, and their house burned down. The children had no option but to move to the bush for shelter and security.

“Here I was serving humanity, yet my children were in the bush. I immediately thought of going there to protect them but no, I had a responsibility to serve humanity in Bangui,” says Ange, adding that as a humanitarian, one has to always place vulnerable people first, regardless of the circumstances.

Ange’s family stayed in the forest for four months where he says they lacked basic essentials and faced many challenges including insecurity, lack of access to safe drinking water, and exposure to sickness. To date, Ange has not yet managed to make the long insecure journey back to Poau, but his son was able to reach Bangui. Using the little savings he had managed to secure from his volunteer allowance, Ange bought a basic phone so he could communicate with his children. He also gave them a little bit of money which they used to put up a simple temporary shelter. Ange continues to support his family using trusted truck drivers to deliver money when humanitarian convoys make the long risky trip. He is determined to save enough money to send the younger children back to school when normality returns.

Many families like Ange’s have been affected by the ongoing conflict and are still living in bushes, internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, with host families, or in neighbouring countries as refugees. According to the Population Movement Commission, there are at least 31 IDP camps in Bangui and 66 others in the provinces, hosting close to 368,000 people, all in urgent need of basic essentials. Meanwhile, the situation remains fragile and unpredictable. Between May-August 2015, violence has continued in several parts of the country, with two new IDP camps created, and a large number of people injured or displaced.