From where I stand: “We barely had a meal in three days”

Florence Luanda Maheshe found herself in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo with six children to feed and barely enough food. Once the camp closed, she was left with no support. Access to a small piece of land and assistance from a NGO supported by UN Women helped Maheshe stand on her own feet.


Florence Luanda Maheshe. Photo: UN Women/Eddy K. Momat
Florence Luanda Maheshe. Photo: UN Women/Eddy K. Momat


When we left our village Ufamundu in Congo on our way to Bweremana camp on the banks of Lake Kivu, one of my daughters who was 18 years old, was raped by a group of armed men. One month later, my second daughter, aged 14, was raped too when she was gathering firewood in the bush around the refugee camp.

In the camp too, life was never easy. There wasn’t enough food to feed myself and six teenagers, and now my two daughters who were raped were pregnant. How could I feed so many mouths?

I learned to weave baskets. Every week, I took the baskets to sell at the local market. Yet, the little money that I earned was not enough to feed my family every day. We barely had a meal in three days…Under these dire circumstances, the authorities decided to close the refugee camp for political reasons.

We had fled to the camp to escape the conflict in our villages in the highlands of Masisi in the northern part of the country, where rebels were active. We were far from home, and now with the camp closed, we were left without any support.

My life changed when Dynamique Paysanne Femmes (DPF), a partner organization of UN Women, offered me a small plot of land, where I sowed some corn. After the first harvest, I made USD 150! With this money, I put my daughters back to school and bought more raw materials to weave baskets.

The organization also helped me get a USD 90 loan to expand my basket business, and gave me a bigger plot of land to cultivate, seeing how well I was doing. Today, I have just packaged 500 kilos of corn; it will sell for USD 300!

Now I can provide two full meals a day for my family, which used to be impossible before. I can even afford to pay school fees for all my children.”

SDG 1: No poverty

Florence Luanda Maheshe, 54 years old, was abandoned by her husband. When armed conflict broke out in her village, Ufamundu, in the highlands of Masisi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) she fled with her six children to the Bweremana Refugee camp located on the banks of Lake Kivu in DRC, almost 40 km south-west of the capital city Goma. When the camp closed, Maheshe had nowhere to go and two of her teenage daughters were pregnant. With the help of a Congolese organization, Dynamique Paysanne Femmes (DPF), a partner of UN Women for the Japan-funded programme, Mulltisectoral Response Project to Women Refugees and Displaced in the DRC, Maheshe now owns a piece of land and a small business of basket-making. Her story amplifies the need of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 on ending poverty, which calls for land ownership and control, as well as SDG 8 which promotes entrepreneurship.

Read more stories in the “From where I stand...” editorial series.