Democratic Republic of Congo

For Françoise | World Humanitarian Day 2019

 
“I’m proud of the work that I do. Because when I help the population it helps me as well. We’re all the same. We have all experienced the same difficulties. So when you are able to help people you have to help them the same way you were helped. That’s it!”
 
Françoise Kalunda (1985 – 2019)
 
By Eleanor Farmer, Creative Producer, Oxfam GB
 
I met Françoise Kalunda in August 2018, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where she had been working for five years with Oxfam as a Public Health Promoter. 56,000 people had recently fled their homes because of a violent conflict and were now living in temporary camps. Françoise was working with a small team, ensuring people had clean water, toilets and good hygiene practices to prevent disease outbreaks. I was there to meet people who had been affected by the conflict, but also to highlight the efforts of local staff – especially women like Françoise: hidden figures, doing incredible work.
 
Françoise agreed for us to spend the day documenting her work. It began with ‘rush hour’ at the Oxfam water point. She joined a crowd of women and children who were jostling to fill water containers from the taps.
 
“Jambo Mama!” they called as she made her way through the crowd.
She was friendly and relaxed, but focused on her work. “Please close your bucket with a lid, okay? You have to close your containers after drawing water,” she called. “Whose container is that? Wash the containers away from the water point please. Excuse me everyone, please wash your containers first, and make sure they are spotlessly clean, okay? You will all have a chance to draw water. Just leave your buckets in the queue. Let us have an organised queue please! There’s plenty of water.
 
 
The group paid attention. They all knew Françoise. Her work as a Public Health Promoter also involved going from household to household, speaking to people about hygiene in the home. She told us that when Oxfam arrived, people were going to the toilet in the river and at the same time collecting water to drink. Unsurprisingly, there was a big cholera outbreak. We met Valerie*, a cholera survivor, who told us about the lack of hygiene awareness and the impact of Françoise’s work. “The people from our village didn’t think it was wrong to drink water from the river, amid the danger. The water was the colour of my jacket [brown].”
 
“If I take you to the graveyard, you will be shocked. We used to bury up to five people a week.”
Françoise took us through the preventative measures against cholera, and emphasised the need to drink clean, treated water. She also taught us about hygiene. I used this knowledge to train my family. She really helped my family and me – she gave me health ‘riches,’” Valerie said.
 
Back at the water point, we filmed Françoise walking towards the crowd as she described how she did her job. She graciously repeated the same action several times, so we could capture the right shot. Between takes,
 
Françoise didn’t hesitate to help out when she saw someone struggling.
“Oh, I can tell that container is heavy… who will carry this for you?” she said. “Remember if you do not clean your containers the water purifier will not be effective as germs will still be present. You know that, right? Okay. Let me help you.”
 
Before working for Oxfam, Françoise had worked on a counselling and therapy programme for conflict survivors. The Oxfam job appealed to her, because she would also be working with people,
 
“Talking and teaching – it’s my field.” she told us.
Later that day, we watched the community assemble in a small hut to listen to Françoise. She engaged the crowd with drawings and songs, employing different techniques to encourage people to learn how to prevent the spread of disease. During an interview we filmed with Françoise, she revealed how her own experiences motivated her work. “I am passionate because I have been a victim myself. I was in a refugee camp and I saw a lot of people dying of disease. Humanitarian workers came to carry out awareness-raising which improved the situation – that’s why I got interested in this job.”
 
Françoise was not an astronaut, looking at the earth from space; she was not a scientist, looking at matter under a microscope; but she applied the same pioneering perspective to the community she belonged to; carefully observing what really makes a difference, quietly improving and saving lives. “We’re all the same and we have all experienced the same difficulties.” she said, “So, when you find yourself in a situation where you are able to help yourself and others, you have to help them in the same way. I’m very proud of the work that I do. I am proud because helping the population helps me too. I gain the knowledge and it broadens my expertise. It feels like being part of a family.”
 
I recently received the news that Françoise passed away a few months ago. On this World Humanitarian Day, I want people to know about the incredible work she did.
 
Françoise was a real humanitarian. She was courageous and compassionate.
 
She had the trust of the communities she worked with. And knew what mattered most.
 
Françoise let us record her life for a day and we made this film. Please watch and share.

Meet Françoise (1985- 2019), the incredible aid worker | Oxfam GB

New Ebola cases in Goma pose risk of disease spreading internationally, says Oxfam Ireland CEO

In response to the World Health Organisation’s declaration of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as a ‘public health emergency of international concern’, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive Jim Clarken said:

“Ebola has now been confirmed in Goma, a major transport hub with a population of more than one million people. The city’s location on the border with Rwanda only increases the risk of international spread of this deadly disease.

“We need more intensified and coordinated action from the international community and this decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) is a major step in attracting the world’s attention to the Ebola crisis in DRC.

“We welcome their recommendation to prioritise community engagement, as we know that getting the trust of communities affected by the virus has been a massive barrier and focusing primarily on a medical approach hasn’t been working.”

Over 13 million people in DRC are facing acute levels of hunger and many have endured decades of violence and conflict. 300,000 people have recently been displaced by renewed conflict in Ituri, an area not far from an Ebola outbreak which nearly a year on has killed 1,600 people.

Clarken added: “The recent Ebola deaths in Uganda also show the devastating potential for Ebola to spread across borders. Vast numbers of people on the move makes it even more difficult to track and treat patients at risk of the virus.

“We echo the WHO’s call for authorities to allow borders to remain open, so people can cross safely at official points where they can be screened for Ebola. Given the intense conflict in the region, there’s a huge risk of people crossing illegally if borders are closed. Millions of people are also dependent on cross border trade and if this lifeline is cut off it would only put poor people at risk of losing their livelihoods, while generating more anger and distrust towards the Ebola response.”

Oxfam’s Country Director in the DRC, Corinne N’Daw, said: “This is also a crucial opportunity to strengthen the public health response and to respond to broader humanitarian needs in the country. Any new funding must be accompanied by stricter accountability to ensure that everyone is working effectively together to end this dreadful outbreak, that has claimed the lives of so many Congolese people.”

Oxfam has been providing assistance in North Kivu and Ituri with public awareness and education on how to keep safe and stop the spread of the disease. Oxfam has also responded to previous outbreaks elsewhere in DRC by providing hundreds of thousands of people with clean, safe water, and working with local community leaders and volunteers to increase understanding of how to prevent Ebola.

NOTES TO EDITORS

Oxfam has spokespeople on the ground and in Ireland. Supporting materials are also available, including photos, testimonies and video of Oxfam’s response. For more information, or to arrange an interview please contact: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

 

Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo is declared an international health emergency

News broke yesterday of the first confirmed case of the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the heavily populated city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), located on the Rwandan border.

Serious concerns are being expressed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the safety of the one million residents in this large urban area and about the spread of the virus beyond, as Goma serves as a major gateway for transport to and from the DRC.

The WHO has now declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This declaration will mean a greater response from the rest of the world on the plight of the Congolese people.

Oxfam has been providing assistance in the Goma region with public awareness and education on how to keep safe and stop the spread of the disease and is ready to respond further if this first confirmed case leads to more.

It is important that travel in this area is unrestricted until we have further information about Ebola in Goma because millions of people depend on cross border trade to make a living in this already extremely poor part of the world.

In the rest of the DRC, we have helped hundreds of thousands of people by providing clean, safe water and working with local community leaders and volunteers to increase understanding of how to prevent Ebola.

Louise is a community leader in a district within Mangina, the most affected area by the Ebola virus. Copyright: John Wessels/Oxfam

Three hundred kilometres north of Goma in Mangina, a community leader, Louise, told us about her experience in this heavily impacted part of the DRC:

“At first we thought Ebola was witchcraft. We thought it was a spell cast on women because they are the one who are most affected. But since we received an explanation, we have understood that it is a very serious disease that strikes us.

“From the beginning of the outbreak, we called a community meeting and we decided to isolate any dead bodies. It was not easy because we do not have a mortuary in Mangina and people usually stay with the body for several days.

“Since the Ebola outbreak many people have died, others are in the hospital.  Many children are without their mothers. These children live with difficulty and the community has few means to help them.

“Here in Mangina, even finding food for your household is difficult. Sometimes you can spend the day without eating. We have seen families flee from here, one after the other. They may come back at the end of the epidemic.”

We urgently need your help to continue to play a vital role in preventing the disease from spreading. Oxfam is providing clean, safe water and hygiene kits and working closely wih community leaders and volunteers to raise awareness and increase understanding of how to take preventative measures against the disease.

Please, donate now to help meet the most critical needs. 100% of your donation will go to our Ebola response in DRC.

Oxfam - Response to Ebola outbreak

“It is not easy to live in isolation” – the women caught up in DRC’s Ebola crisis

Ebola has claimed more than 1,400 lives across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since August of last year. The most recent figures from the World Health Organisation show the total number of cases at almost 2,100, while the outbreak – the second largest in history – has also spread to neighbouring Uganda.

Oxfam was one of the first agencies to respond to the crisis in conflict-ridden DRC by providing clean, safe water and working with community leaders and volunteers to increase understanding of how to prevent the virus, and to dispel people’s myths and fears. So far, we’ve reached 138,000 people across the country.

Yvette* carries one of the children on her back. Photo: John Wessels/Oxfam. *Name changed

In Mangina, mother-of-seven Yvette* now cares for 10 children. Ebola claimed the life of her neighbour, so Yvette looks after the three orphaned children as well as her own family.

“She was only 35 and died at the beginning of the outbreak,” says Yvette. “Her children are like mine. The little girl fell sick after the death of her mother, her eyes are inflamed.”

For Yvette, the good news is that the children are on a vaccination list – they are currently waiting for a medical team to visit. In the meantime, she says that she feels isolated, adding: “The community is afraid of us.”

Elsewhere, mother-of-two Judith, who works as a primary school teacher, also found herself isolated as a result of Ebola.

 

Judith in her classroom. Photo: Alain Nking/Oxfam

Judith was quarantined for 21 days after the director of her school died of the virus. She says: “During my isolation, I felt like I was going to die at any moment. It is not easy to live in isolation and to always think that you may be carrying the dangerous and deadly disease that killed my director.”

Even when Judith eventually returned to work, she found a mostly empty classroom.

“Many parents became afraid after the death of the director,” she explains. “They think that their children could be infected by the virus in the school and especially in my contact. Many of them have not passed their final exams.”

Oxfam travelled to Judith’s school to give lessons on hygiene and install water points. Our staff also built an area where pupils and teachers who feel unwell could check their temperature and rest while waiting for transfer to a health centre.

“The Oxfam team came to my house to give me some food,” Judith adds. “The kit really helped my reintegration. When people saw Oxfam vehicles and agents coming to my house, the whole avenue came to see what was going on.

“When Oxfam left, the neighbours stayed at my house all night. It was the first time in a long time that I saw people in my home. It was a real joy for me.”

Ebola has already destroyed lives in DRC and Uganda – and millions more are at risk. Oxfam is working hard to prevent the spread of the virus by distributing clean, safe water and teaching communities about the importance of hygiene. 

*Name changed to protect identity

Ebola cases in DRC reach 500

 

OXFAM: Ebola cases in DRC reach 500, as country faces threat of more violence ahead of elections

In response to the number of Ebola cases in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reaching 500, Chals Wontewe, Oxfam’s Country Director in the DRC, said:

“DRC is battling to keep Ebola under control; cases are increasing at a quicker rate and the virus has spread further.

“Although the outbreak is still far from the scale of the West Africa epidemic, we’re operating in an extremely complex environment and facing the very real threat of more violence and instability in the run up to the elections.

“The response could be forced to slow down, or even be suspended - every time this has happened before the virus spread further.

“The election must be allowed to take place peacefully and all candidates and their supporters must put the well-being of the Congolese people first, if we’re to have any hope of putting an end to the Ebola outbreak and the horrendous suffering people have faced for decades.”

Ends

For more information , please contact:
 
ROI:     Alice Dawson-Lyons on 083 198 1869 /alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org
 
NI:        Phillip Graham on 07841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfam.org

 

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