Once more into the Congo

Posted on Posted in community development, sustainability, Travel

Bukavu Team

Nov 09 marked the end of a highly successful food aid response to 21 000 of the most vulnerable people in the war-affected areas of eastern DR Congo.

If you have read any of my previous posts on the subject, you have already heard of my first of three visits to the region, during a visit into Nindja, we spent 8 hours on the road. That got us to and from a one-and-a-half hour meeting.  The total distance we travelled was probably about 269 kilometers – 130 km each way, and about 9 in climbing in and out of potholes.

During our drive to the community, at first we passed other four-by-fours, large transport trucks with crowds seated on top of the mass of products, and small Toyotas with the suspension about to burst.  Eventually the vehicles dwindled down to the occasional motorcycle, until finally we met no other car on the road, no one passed by, except on foot.  Later we discovered that we were the fourth vehicle into the region that year.

We passed some of the most beautiful country in the world, gentle mountains, lush and green, gave way to groves of banana, tea, pine and countless small farms.  The hillsides were alive with countless women, men and children, each hard at work with worn shovels and smoothed hoes.  The observable evidence of a return to normal cultivation is on the rise.

Still, the problems of DR Congo are significant;

the security situation is in constant flux.  While Kimya II, the recent military campaign to rout out the rebel forces has struck a significant blow at the leadership, in many cases the rebels have now decentralized and moved into the communities. While this is a positive reduction in the overall force of the rebels, it has also created a destabilizing influence at the local community level. Over the summer, I was able to interview several beneficiaries in Kaniola (one of the distribution sites), after asking what war meant to each of them, one woman clarified that this was not a philosophical exercise as she had been forced from her home by rebel combatants in the last week.

Other significant problems include the high prices for many goods, while payment for labour remains very low.  Corruption is endemic – border officials, unofficial road crews, numerous check stops, and army protection – all demand payment.   Government resources are limited and are not trusted by the majority of the population.  Even in the regional capital Bukavu, I found that the electricity, internet connection and water supply were infrequent at best.

For outlying areas, the situation is even more difficult.  As a region, Sud Kivu has borne more than its share of pain.  Constant war, subsequent displacement and numerous acts of violence and aggression have continually forced the population out of the normal routines of planting and harvest.  Food security is tenuous for most, and for those on the edges; the ill, elderly, widowed and orphaned, the situation is even worse.  As people have returned home, they have had to start over with nothing, for some, this displacement has happened numerous times.

Against these challenging circumstances, and ably mobilized by the local project manager, Pastor Raha Muzibao has gathered a capable and honest team to accomplish some substantial goals. 7000 families in five remote areas were identified to receive a substantial monthly food package.  The food would prove a decrease in malnutrition, allow people the time and energy to cultivate their own plots, free people to engage in psychosocial support and re-engage children back to school.  Pastor Raha’s nondescript office wall reveals the important results; during an informal poll review, the village leadership revealed a 98% success rate of the project for the 21 000 beneficiaries.

The project leaders respect and appreciation of the principles of good practice was obvious and enthusiastic.  Even where we found occasional misunderstanding, Raha’s collaborative process of learning and improving was not short-circuited.  There was no abandonment of project principle for expediency or personal advantage, instead integrity was rigorously maintained and consistent and significant advances forward were made in terms of capacity development.

For the most vulnerable, exhausted by the continual terror of displacement and war, this ERDO/CFGB feeding program was initiated and proven very successful.  The consistency and quality of the food package was often a source of pride by the participants.   I observed that beneficiaries showed a marked improvement in health.  Standards of impartiality were maintained and all partners unanimously reported a very high degree of satisfaction.  The only requests that remain are for future projects to new, even-more remote and impoverished communities, as well as the desire  for supplementary food security projects to the communities that the project had served.

Mark Crocker

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