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Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service

Name Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service Fax 255 (051) 700581
Headquarters: Dar Es Salaam Director Duane Poppe
Formed

1964

Number of Staff 600+
Telephone 255 (051) 700579 Annual Budget $6,720,737 (1997)

 

By Jeremy Shoham

As Duane Poppe, the American director of the Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service (TCRS) strode up the stairs, hands outstretched to greet me, he apologised for being late explaining that he had been called to an urgent meeting at the Prime Minister's Office to discuss TCRS's role in this years food emergency. On sitting down in his expansive but sparsely decorated office in Dar Es Salaam he commented on the irony of TCRS starting over 35 years ago doing emergency work in Tanzania, moving into development and now seemingly coming full circle and back into emergencies.

TCRS was established in 1964 as an operational field programme of the Lutheran World Federation Department for World Service, at the request of, and on behalf of the World Council of Churches and the Christian Council of Tanzania. The agency was initially set up as an ecumenical institution for humanitarian interventions in refugee situations. Currently, staff numbers exceed 600 people.

During the first 20 years, TCRS mainly worked with Rwandan, Burundian and Mozambican refugees. These programmes started off as relief interventions and then gradually moved into developmental activities as Government of Tanzania (GoT) policy objectives turned towards the encouragement of refugee self-sufficiency in settlements. TCRS promoted self-sufficiency through a variety of inputs, e.g., provision of water, seeds and tools and agricultural extension services.

In 1984 the GoT invited TCRS to take over the development activities of a departing NGO in Singida region. This was the first non-refugee programme the agency had taken on. The development activities established in Singida were similar to those undertaken in the refugee settlements. Other development programmes quickly followed, e.g. in Arusha.

Once again the focus of TCRS activities changed in the early 1990s following the 1993 and 1994 refugee influx from Burundi and Rwanda. This large influx rapidly caused a hardening of GoT attitudes towards refugees. Whereas before they had been provided with abundant settlement land the GoT now wanted them to receive the bare minimum of services in an effort to "make life as uncomfortable as possible" and to get them to repatriate quickly. TCRS programmes therefore became quick impact emergency interventions in line with many of the international agencies working in the camps. Duane argued that this was really short-sighted as many of these refugees could make a considerable contribution to Tanzania (which has an abundance of land) in terms of agricultural production. The TCRS director was pleased that not everyone in government agreed with this policy citing the example of Kibondo district in Kigoma region where the local government was defying GoT policy and providing large tracts of land for refugees. Duane argued that the GoT assertion that self-sufficiency for refugees encourages permanent settlement runs counter to the evidence and that once conditions are suitable refugees will in most cases want to go home. For example, many of the refugees from the 1960s who had become fully self-sufficient returned home to Rwanda following the change of government in 1994.

The latest turn of events for TCRS is their involvement in an emergency feeding intervention for resident communities in Singida region in partnership with SCF. SCF/TCRS made use of a newly developed community managed approach to targeting scarce emergency food aid resources. The system (which is described in a field article in this edition of Field Exchange) proved to be more transparent and fairer than previous food distribution approaches in Tanzania. It also incorporated a developmental approach into emergency work. The GoT are now requesting that TCRS staff with experience of this programme are seconded to other emergency affected regions to help implement the novel programme design.

As the meeting neared its end, Duane interrupted the line of my questioning with a complaint directed at international humanitarian agencies. He told me "although there are notable exceptions, I don't think they (humanitarian agencies) invest enough time and effort into strengthening the technical capacity of church-based agencies like ourselves to mount efficient emergency interventions. We mainly have to learn through partnership and 'doing' rather than formal training". Looking slightly wistful he went a little further by saying: " While I can understand possible reasons for this, e.g. fear of partisanship or proselytising, as well as not having enough time in the acute stage of an emergency, I think this is short-sighted. The fact is church based agencies are always there at the beginning of an emergency, plug the gaps during the emergency response, and remain there when all the international humanitarian agencies have gone home or moved on to the next high profile disaster". On saying good-bye to Duane I noted my reluctance to tell him that in two days time I too would be catching a flight home.

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Jeremy Shoham (1999). Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service. Field Exchange 7, July 1999. p23. www.ennonline.net/fex/7/agencyprofile

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