Fleeing your home due to conflict and fear of persecution and getting away from the only life you have known is difficult. This is harder if you are a refugee, with barely any means of survival or a source of income, and your business is razed to the ground by a fire.
This was the experience of at least 55 refugees who owned businesses in Lusaka City Market before a section of the market was burnt down on 4th July 2017, destroying goods worth millions of Kwacha and affecting hundreds of families’ livelihoods.
The 55 refugees, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, depend on humanitarian support from UNHCR through its implementing partners. Action Africa Help International (AAH-I) is one of these implementing partners. As much as the market fire resulted in loss of livelihoods for refugee entrepreneurs, the stress was compounded with cases of high blood pressure and two cases of stroke among the refugee victims. The two cases of stroke were reported within seven days of the fire incident.
On 3rd August 2017, AAH-I facilitated a stress management session for refugee victims of the market fire. Through community volunteers, the refugees were mobilized to the venue of the event, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Kanyama.
The objectives of the stress management session were to identify victims with high risk of high blood pressure, to give refugees a space to share their experiences as a way of mental stress relief, and to allow project staff and health professionals to gain insights into the situation.
The first activity involved medical screening by AAH-I’s Health Coordinator Wycliffe Matende. Out of 31 refugees screened, a total of 26 (12 male and 14 female) presented blood pressure above 120/80 mmHg. The range was 130/90 – 190/120 mmHg. Those identified with high blood pressure were put on regular monitoring at nearest health facilities or referred to the Health Coordinator’s office for appropriate medical advice. Contact numbers of health staff were shared for future urgent needs.
AAH Zambia’s Wyclliffe Matende (R) screening fire victims for high blood pressure
Following the screening was an open session for the victims to openly share their experiences. On hand to encourage them was psychiatrist Dr Eddie Mbewe, a lecturer and the Head of the Psychiatry Department at Chainama College of Health Sciences in Lusaka. The session concluded with distribution of second-hand clothes and insecticide-treated mosquito nets for the victims. Each received two mosquito nets and three items of clothing.
Psychiatrist Eddie Mbewe (L) talking to the fire victims
Refugee leader Benard Lukungu (R) assisting with distribution of clothes
“Thank you for organizing this event, and for bringing in a doctor to support us. His words have encouraged us and helped to allay our anxieties. May God bless you and AAH-I for making this session possible”, said the refugee leader Benard Lukungu, on behalf of participants.
AAH Zambia has been implementing the Urban Refugee Project through provision of social, health and psychological services to vulnerable urban refugees. Since 2011, we have facilitated social support to refugees in Chawama, George, Kanyama and Mandevu outreach centers.