How one, small bag made a big difference in the life of families that lost everything

Written by: Aija Kuparinen, IFRC

Rugoma Dismas, 64, with his daughters Shela Munezero, 15, and Nuni Nduwumwami, 13 received a non-electric, portable cooker from Rwanda Red Cross. “Using the Wonderbag has reduced our firewood consumption to half,” Rugoma says.

Life is not easy for the over 55,000 Burundians living in Mahama camp in Eastern Rwanda. They have had to leave behind their homes and everything that used to be familiar to them. For the past three years they have been forced to live in houses they cannot call a home, surviving with limited resources and having to depend on the support of the various organisations. In the daily, ordinary life, it is the small things that can make the biggest difference – and cause the biggest worries.

“The biggest challenge here in the camp is preparing food,” says Rugoma Dismas, a widow and father of two.

He is a skilled carpenter but has been unable to find a job or any means of income in the camp and is hence totally dependent on aid.

“The amount of firewood we receive monthly is not enough and because of my disability I am not able to go outside to collect it. We had to buy wood, but since we did not have enough money, we had to sell some of the food that was distributed to us.”

This vicious circle was broken when Rwanda Red Cross, supported by the Norwegian Red Cross, distributed portable, non-electric slow cookers to the camp. Rugoma Dismas explains that he can now cook food for just a short time, place the pot inside the Wonderbag, go to take care of his daily task and then come back after some hours to find the food perfectly cooked and ready.

“I now spend only half of the firewood that I used to, so I save a lot of money and time,” he says.

Since the food stays warm inside the Wonderbag for a long time, it makes Rugoma’s daughters happy, too.

“We prepare the food in the evening for the next day and store it in the Wonderbag. I am relieved to know that when I go to school, dad has something to eat during the day,” says Rugoma’s daughter Shela Munezero, 15.


Shela Munezero,15, has been living in Mahama camp for the past 3 years with her dad and her younger sister.

Doctor Alain Zimulinda, Head of Health and Care Services of Rwanda Red Cross explains that cooking with the Wonderbag helps save nutrition components, so it makes the food healthier, too. He tells that in addition to Wonderbags, Rwanda Red Cross has distributed gasifier stoves and solar lights to families living in Mahama camp.

“The Wonderbag and the gasifier stove help people save time and money. They are also environmentally friendly, since they reduce the use of firewood and hence cutting the trees,” Alain Zimulina says.

Julienne Niyoyankunze prepares rice with her new Wonderbag. She says that by cooking with it she spends only half of the amount of firewood than before.

Within a short distance from Rugoma’s small home, Julienne Niyoyankunze, 47, is waiting for a portion of rice to get ready inside her new Wonderbag. Like Rugoma, she says that firewood has been the biggest daily trouble for her, since she arrived to Mahama camp three years ago with her husband and four children.

“The amount we receive every month is simply not enough. I have health problems and it is very challenging for me to walk long distances to collect wood outside the camp,” Julienne says.

Julienne Niyoyankunze prepares rice with her new Wonderbag. She says that by cooking with it she spends only half of the amount of firewood than before.

She explains that they used to try and prepare their meals with the little firewood they had, and the food remained uncooked. Wonderbag has changed things completely. They are now able to cook using a lot less wood and time.

“And the food stays warm for a long time, so I only need to cook once a day,” she says.

“It really makes a big difference. It helps us a lot.”

Since Mahama Camp was established in 2015, Rwanda Red Cross, with support from various actors of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has been supporting both Mahama Camp and the surrounding, hosting communities. The green energy programme that brings environmentally friendly solutions to people living in the area, is just one of the many initiatives and programmes helping improve the lives of countless vulnerable families.