Angola

Oxfam: Diary from Angola - Experiences of war

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"After we fled the village, everyone became ill. I had just had a baby, a son. He got ill and he died. There was nothing we could do to help him. I don't know how long we were away from the village. It was many months, always moving, moving. We are very happy to be back here now."
While work on the latrines at Xandel takes place, I have a chance to talk with some of the residents of Xandel about their experiences of displacement during the war.

Jorge Domingos tells me how his family was forced into the bush by the fighting. With his wife and four children he survived by living on wild foods for several months. They were constantly moving, and had no home. "It was a terrible time," he explains, "The constant movement exhausted us, and many people died through lack of food and medicine."

Now that they are back, life is much better. While they have no money, and little food, at least they have peace, and crops in the field. Until the maize ripens, they hope that the monthly World Food Programme distributions will continue.

Isabel Almeida has a similar story to tell. Paizinho, her son, is almost one year old. He was born in the bush, while she and her husband were displaced. As he suckles contendedly, Isabel explains. "After we fled the village, everyone became ill. I had just had a baby, a son. He got ill and he died. There was nothing we could do to help him. I don't know how long we were away from the village. It was many months, always moving, moving. We are very happy to be back here now."

Their stories are typical of all the residents here. To be caught in the fighting between UNITA and the government forces spelled disaster for many Angolan communities.

Chico, 25 years old, explains how UNITA would capture community members, particularly young men, and force them to fight with them. "We were terrified of being caught by UNITA. When we heard that the fighters were coming this way, we fled," he tells us. He was away from his home for five years, living in an overcrowded house with relatives in Malanje.

The government forces were also responsible for displacements, sometimes forcing populations to move so that they could not provide support in the form of personnel or food, for UNITA.

The war has left many women without husbands or sons, and in communities like these - where survival depends on hard work in the fields - there are particular challenges for women without close male relatives, raising children alone.

The people here have little or nothing in terms of material resources or access to services. They have no money, and little to trade. Yet no-one complains - instead, Jorge, Isabel, and others assure me that life now is immeasurably better than it was, because now there is peace, and because now, after a long absence, they have come home.