CARE BLOG

Human Interest Stories from DRC

5/15/12

A Testament to Human Kindness

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IDP Rachele in her home in DRC. Picture by Julie Edwards/CARE International/2012

Welcoming groups of people into your community isn't always easy – they need to find a place to live and food to eat and this can put pressure on villagers who already struggle to support themselves. Despite these obvious difficulties, communities all over the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) welcome displaced people and offer them support.

The humanitarian situation in the DRC is one of the world's most complex and long-standing. This is due to continuing armed conflict and general insecurity. According to UNOCHA 1.7 million people remained displaced, mostly in eastern DRC, in 2011.

In one village, Kanii, according to locals there are around 200 displaced people living amongst the 450 households. Rachele, displaced by conflict on several occasions has, this time, been here for three years. She first came to the village as a teenager when she was pregnant and fleeing mass atrocities. You might wonder why she returns home but when you have nothing and your home was once somewhere you were able to earn a living perhaps it is more understandable. "I want to return home. I have a farm, livestock and a field of bananas and beans but I know, at the moment, I can't go back."

Rachele lives in a shelter, provided by CARE, next to the family that took her in when she first arrived. The two room shelter is home to her and the 11 children she shares it with – six biological children and the five she adopted when her sister died.

Sangatia, a 50 year old widow, currently supports 24 people, including Rachele, and when you ask her why she simply replies ’˜love'. There is no financial benefit for Sangatia and it is hard to understand why this woman would help so many others but she never questions the assistance she gives. "When new people arrive we see them as brothers and sisters, our feeling is to welcome them. When they arrive we welcome them and think about how we can live together. When we have food we share it."

The story of a displaced woman and the widow that has taken her and her family in is a testament to how the Congolese people help each other in times of crisis. CARE is supporting host communities and villages like Kanii with the provision of shelter kits, seeds and tools so that people can grow crops and feed their families. Community crisis management committees are set up so that people can work together and avoid conflict.

Rebuilding Lives After War

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An ex-combatant, Miroro and his wife Furaha. Picture by Julie Edwards/CARE International/2012

When war ends, the combatants have to return home – often to communities that are understandably hostile towards the people who caused their pain and suffering. These combatants don't have any way to support their families and need help to reintegrate back into a society that is trying to rebuild itself.

Miroro and Furaha married in 2002 and have five children. Miroro spent 13 years in the army, leaving in 2006. When he left the army he found himself living amongst a distrustful community. "The community's reaction towards me when I returned was that they couldn't believe I was a civilian and always asked to see my discharge papers. They weren't necessarily afraid but weren't sure how to act around me as they thought I might still be a soldier."

The reaction of the community was just one part of the family's problems as Miroro explains: "When I left the army there was nothing for me to do. I couldn't send my children to school because the fees were too expensive. We lived here on the charity of the community". But since joining a CARE project and receiving business training the family has seen their fortunes change with the opening of a small shop in front of their home that is well used and supported by the local community.

Miroro's wife, Furaha, has seen changes since their involvement in the project. "Everything he gets he shares. We now have food and clothes. Each time he gets money he brings it to me and we talk about how to use it."

Miroro is also happy that he is his own boss. "I don't have to take orders from anyone else. I can support myself for the first time and send my children to school. I have learned how to generate an income, keep track of the money and reinvest it."

The project is working with ex-combatants to find viable ways to earn a living, through hairdressing, mechanics, livestock rearing and small commerce. The participants are also given kits to start their business and we have worked with local authorities to get taxes waived for the first year so that the businesses are provided with the best start possible.

When a Husband and Soldier Returns

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Ex-combatant Munyaneza and his wife Matipaka in their home in Goma. Picture by Julie Edwards/CARE International/2012

For Matipaka, the last 16 years have been a struggle. For 14 of those years she had to care for her children while her husband, an army battalion commander, was away fighting. "When he was a soldier I was left alone to take care of the children. Often six or nine months would pass when we didn't see each other. The longest we spent apart was one year."

During these years Matipaka would survive by finding work where she could and eventually she had to sell the one asset the family owned. "We had 7 goats before he left but I sold them one by one just to survive."

The return of Matipka's husband didn't spell the end of their hardship. Not only did they have to adjust to life back together but they still didn't have a secure income. "When he was unemployed life was very difficult, we just sold a little flour here and there. There were times when he was difficult to manage, difficult to live with."

CARE's ’˜Hope Tomorrow' project is working with ex-combatants and provided Munyaneza, Matipaka's husband, with training and equipment to start his own business. Munyaneza explains how the project has helped the whole family "The project gave me four months training which included mechanics. I now have a driving licence and can repair tyres. I have also been able to buy four goats and some chickens and ducks. I can now send my children to school and feed them"

Life is now improving for the family but it is also good to see that Matipka is no longer facing the daily struggles on her own: "now when problems arise we can work together to overcome them."

The project is working with ex-combatants to find viable ways to earn a living, through hairdressing, mechanics and livestock rearing. The participants are given kits to start their businesses and we have also worked with local authorities to get taxes waived for the first year so that the businesses are provided with the best start possible.

Life in an IDP Camp

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IDP Cecile outside her shelter. Picture by Julie Edwards/CARE International/2012

According to UNOCHA there are nearly 79,000 displaced Congolese living in 31 IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in North Kivu. Many of them have no hope of going home in the near future due to continued insecurity and renewed fighting in their villages.

Cecile, 37, arrived in the camp almost a year ago. "We fled because armed groups were raising villages on the other side of the hills and they were killing people and burning everything. I was so distressed when we fled. We didn't have anything to eat."

Arriving in the camp, Cecile and her five children were taken in by another family until they could build their own shelter. Cecile struggles on a daily basis. "I face many challenges each day – to get food, maintain our shelter, to keep clothed and to even find cooking utensils. On top of that my children can't go to school."

CARE provided Cecile, and families like hers, with vouchers that could be used to buy the things she most needed, these vouchers assist families with the goods they need, while helping local markets. "We received vouchers from CARE. No NGO had given us food until then. I was miserable with hunger and when CARE gave us the vouchers I was overjoyed. I thank CARE for that. I liked getting vouchers instead of simply receiving food directly. It meant I could choose what to get and how much."

This camp is now home to Cecile and she explained why returning home isn't an option. "I can't imagine going back – people from our village have gone back and have been killed or have returned here."

CARE's funding to support families like Cecile ran out in May 2011. It is often difficult to secure longer term funding but CARE hopes to resume activities in the coming months to support new arrivals like Judith, a 47 year old widow, who arrived in the camp at the end of January. "An armed group came two weeks ago and they chased us away and killed some of us. Women were raped and their limbs were cut off with machetes. I saw this with my own eyes. While we were fleeing my sister was killed and cut to pieces."

"I live in misery. I work here and there for the villagers and get paid with plants and salt. I have nine children, four are my own and the others are my sister's children. My hope is that I receive help. Before, I had a stable life and could educate my children – now I can't do that. My children aren't well – we can't eat or keep clean."

*To protect the identity of people in this story names have been changed

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