Democratic Republic of Congo

WASH in the camps

Women collecting drinking water supplied by Oxfam in Kalunga camp, Kalemie, Tanganyika, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Oxfam is providing water, sanitation services and training to keep families healthy. Photo: Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi/Oxfam

In Kalemie province in southeast Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the extreme violence between the Bantu and the Twa ethnic groups and brutal clashes between armed group have very forced more than 654,000 people to flee their homes and thousands of families are facing an increasingly critical food shortage. Women, children and the elderly are among those most affected after having seen families killed, villages burned and fields destroyed. The situation remains volatile and threatens to flare up again at any moment, preventing the displaced from going back to their villages and rebuild their lives.

Oxfam has been working in Kalemie since February 2017 and has already reached 58,302 people forced from their homes and the communities who have welcomed them. Oxfam is helping to provide clean water and sanitation facilities and working with community volunteers to educate people about the importance of good hygiene for staying healthy.

Left: Therese*, a Public Health Promoter talks to a child in Kalunga IDP camp, Kalemie, Tanganyika, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Right: Therese cleans Oxfam sanitation facilities in her community. Photo: Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi/Oxfam.

Therese has been in the Kalunga camp since November 2016. When her village was attacked, she was separated from one of her children and her husband. Therese went looking for them after the attack but couldn't find them, and three months later she was told that their bodies had been found. Therese lives in the Kalunga camp with 9 of her children, ages 7-17 years old. She was trained by Oxfam to be a camp hygiene promoter, and she works daily to clean sanitation facilities in the camp, as well as distributing water purification tablets to families so they have safe water to drink.

Therese said: "We fled as we were. There was no time to pack anything. You only took your children and ran."

"We walked for two days before reaching here. I had so many thoughts in my mind. I had been left with nothing. Sometimes I wish it was me who had died instead of my husband, because this burden is too much for me to bear."

"I have 9 children remaining. One of them is paralyzed and so I had to carry her all the way."

"We reached here in November last year and were received well. We received food for the first two months as well as some money to help us buy other things from the shops. But how can you bring up 9 children in these conditions?"

"People have been talking of going back when the fighting ends. Others are even going there to check on their farms or what is left of their possessions."

"I have experienced war in my life but never have I been forced to leave my home and live in a (IDP) camp. I have never seen fighting like this."

"I never thought I would ever be here. My plan was to save money to build a house where my family could live comfortably and live an ordinary life. But now I can’t even think beyond today. How can I think of a good education for my children if I don’t know where their next meal will come from?"

Oxfam is suppling drinking water to the people in Kalunga camp. Oxfam also trained 61 women from the camp as hygiene promoters. Their daily work includes cleaning sanitation facilities (toilets and bath areas) in the camp, distributing water purification tablets to families.

The protection project bringing hope to the DRC

Without peace, there can be no prosperity. In parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), conflict puts the safety of workers at risk. With insecurity stifling industry and the ability of communities to thrive, one Oxfam project is aimed at those whose lives and livelihoods are under threat.

Left: Henriette Namasale M’Makala, President of the Kashusha Women’s Forum. Photo: Ramon Sanchez Orense/Oxfam. Right: Children play with an old wheel in South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Oxfam is working with co-operatives and protection committees to ensure people can safely earn a living in conflict areas. Photo: Ramon Sanchez Orense/Oxfam

Kabare and Kalehe are two areas of South Kivu where the project – which combines livelihoods with the protection of residents – has been implemented. Furaha M’Maroyi, a widowed mother of four, has already seen the benefits. She does not own a farm, but she is a grower and member of the Kashusha Farming Co-operative, which is involved in the project.

Furaha explained that in the past, when the harvest was destroyed by gangs, she never asked the authorities for help. “Ever since I have lived alone with my children, we have lived in fear of the authorities,” she said. “We have been afraid of soldiers and their leader.”

However, the project recently got the growers and the authorities in the same room. “I sat down before a commanding officer; a person I thought was untouchable,” said 43-year-old Furaha. “We greeted each other and spoke together with familiarity. That day, I felt that a relationship had been forged. We put our conflicts to one side and shook hands, like friends.”

Furaha has gained confidence from that meeting. She has saved some money, which paid for a goat. “If my family became ill tomorrow, I could sell it and pay for the health care services without having to borrow money from my neighbours,” she said. “Since this project came into existence, I have discovered new courage.”

Elsewhere, Henriette Namasale M’Makala , who is president of project partner, the Kashusha Women’s Forum, would like to see violence against women become a thing of the past in the DRC.

“There is so much violence oppressing us, including the fact that we don't have access to a space for discussion, where we can speak out loudly and strongly in the presence of men,” she said. “The society we live in sometimes tends to hold us down in a lowly position, even though it is us, the women, who look after the children and do all the housework.”

Henriette (47) said she is proud of being part of a project which gives women the space to talk openly and honestly about the problems they face. She added that the members can discuss issues such as rape and know they will be heard. Even more importantly, they will not be judged.

Being president of the forum has changed Henriette too. "If I have a problem, I am prepared to go and defend myself before and with men,” she said. “We live near a military camp and that no longer affects me, because my family and I sleep at night.”

 

The joy of clean water in DRC

“There is no way we can thank you other than through song and dance,” says Victorine, a representative of the local water committee as we are welcomed in the remote village of Mambingi in the north eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Up until June of this year, the community could only get water, the most basic of all human rights, from an unprotected local spring. They had to pass through thick forest vegetation where women felt vulnerable to get there and were often bitten by snakes attracted to the surrounding palm oil trees.

Today, thanks to our supporters at home and our local partners Hyfro, Mambingi has some 16 water points spread throughout the village managed proudly by local committees.

Importantly, the water is clean and safe. This reduces the risk of spread of preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery, which regularly plague communities forced to drink whatever water may flow nearby.

Clockwise from top: Oxfam Humanitarian Coordinator Michael O’Riordan measures the flow rate from a new water point constructed in DRC with the support of Irish Aid. Women in DRC often have to travel huge distances to collect water for drinking, cooking and washing. A young girl collects clean filtered water from the newly constructed water points in the village of Kahamba in DRC. A young boy demonstrates the use of simple innovative hand washing facilities made from locally available materials and a simple plastic container located next to a latrine. By pressing on the stick with his foot, the boy tilts the plastic container which causes water to flow shower like from holes made in the side. Good hygiene practice such as this greatly reduces the risk of spread of preventable communicable disease.  Photos: Colm Byrne / Oxfam.

Victorine laughs at me when we ask how long she now has to travel to get to water. Leaning across and stretching out her hand, she says: “No time at all. It is right beside us.”

Mambingi is just one of 12 villages in the region which have benefitted this year from new water distribution systems with the support of Oxfam.

In the process, community members have learned the skills needed to build and care for not only these new facilities but also 577 newly constructed latrines which ensure the safe disposal of human waste without infection of local water sources. Critically, such new skills ensure community well-being not only now but their capacity and independence in doing so well into the future.

Unfortunately, not all communities in DRC are so fortunate. Twenty years of conflict in the country have claimed the lives of millions and resulted in repeated mass movements of people within the country and across its borders.

The conflict, a product of complex international, national, local, ethnic and tribal interests frequently related to competition for the country’s particular mineral wealth, has undermined growth and development. In turn, this has created a fragile political, social and economic context where most people fail to benefit from the country’s rich natural resources and where the reach of state services such as water, health and agriculture is limited if present at all.

Not long after meeting Victorine, as we prepare to leave the region, word reaches us that still more fighting has broken out and that tens of thousands of people only a few hours’ drive away have been forced to flee across the border to Uganda. Yet another tragic event in the history of DRC where life, like the water that sustains it, remains as precious as ever.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.