Independent living, community networks and the best damn chicken I’ve ever tasted.
An 8.30 start yesterday morning, as we’re spent the afternoon doing a debrief at War Child’s Goma office – over the next couple of days we’ll be decamping to another area of DRC, so it’s good for us to go through everything we’ve seen over here so far.
We also had another meeting at the UN this time with UNOCHA which, as with the last couple, had too much sensitive info to blog about, but was again educational, if somewhat frustrating.
The morning started with good news – no dodgy tummies and no mosquito nets. It was also raining, so the dusty roads were a bit easier to travel on. You really have to see it to believe quite how bad the roads are here, but there’s a picture below of a typical java one, which are all across the town, with the dust roads a bit further afield. This particular java road was responsible for a “berocca water on white shirt incident”. Not a good look – thankfully, I had another top with me.
Our first stop of the day was to visit a 17 year old girl who is part of the independent living programme put together by Maison Marguerite to try and get the girls that they can’t re-integrate with their families to become part of the wider society. It’s a new scheme, and there are 3 girls currently set up in this way from Marguerite. The scheme itself has to be taken slowly, as it’s not culturally acceptable in DRC for a woman to live alone.
The girls story is quite hard to listen to, and she’s only able to talk about it now because of the counselling she’s had at the home. She describes still being alive as a miracle and, well, it is. She was 16 when the incident happened.
An orphan, she was living with her grandmother and there were a few family issues which she doesn’t go into. One day, she was kidnapped, blindfolded, driven into a forest and thrown into a ditch where she thinks she was for a couple of weeks with no food, or water, just a couple of people guarding the hole. She awoke one day to hear a group of men discussing how they were going to kill her, but one of the guards was against this and when the men went away, he got her out of the hole, still leaving her blindfolded so she didn’t know who he was, he ran away, but so could she.
She was able to find water to drink and some food in the forest, and walked for days until she found a road, discovering that she was in Rwanda. Determined to get home, she met a smuggler, and he helped her get over the border, where she made her way back to her grandmothers. When she got there, she was obviously traumatised, so was sent to Ngangi to get some psychological help, and started the cookery lessons there, whilst also attending school, before being moved to Marguerite.
Her grandmother wasn’t interested in any kind of re-integration into the family, so the decision was made to put her into the independent living program. Initially, this was with another girl aswell, but the other one couldn’t cope without the safety net of Maison Marguerite, so went back.
The girl is still at school, and about to do her final physics exam. She’s an obviously clever girl from talking to her, and speaks a bit of French as well as her native Swahili. She’s also an incredible cook, giving us some delicious donuts, waffles and chapati’s, which she sells when she isn’t in school, and hopes to turn into a business (possibly with the help of the micro-credit system which I wrote about in the last blog).
Long term, she wants to become a nun to be able to teach others, although there was a slight irony that the 2 of the posters on her wall were one of Jesus, one on of a bunch of US rap stars, none of whom’s lyrics are exactly godly.
She’s an inspiration.
We then got back into the WarChildmobil to go to a child protection network meeting in Mbanga South. The network is something that War Child have set up in a few areas to act as a kind of neighbourhood watch for child protection, and also to educate the kids on their rights.
There are 13 on this particular committee, with 6 of them able to attend that day. It was very interesting hearing the people on the committee talk first hand about some of the problems they face, and how they are dealing with it, trying to stop children being responsible for going to collect water and wood, for example. It’s a country where children are sometimes abandoned just for getting sick, as it costs to get them treatment, but people in this area tend to take the children in so they at least have somewhere to sleep and eat – unofficial adoption and fostering, essentially, and it’s very common place.
There are 82,000 people in the area, but there’s also a military camp close by which has another 11,000 people in it – they are starting to build a relationship with the camp because although they are meant to be kept separate, there have been a few issues with kids from the camp causing problems in the village, and they also want to be able to protect the children there better.
Since War Child put the scheme in place, they’ve started to see kids claiming their own rights, citing the War Child poster campaign as the main reason for this.
Each street now has someone responsible for child protection, and there’s been a definite fall in reported cases – any crimes are referred to the police or NGO’s, and they are looking forward to the putting in place of an emergency number by War Child where they will be able to call freephone to a rapid response team (this is coming in the next few months).
The children are also telling their parents that they have a right to education and food, which is putting a bit of pressure on the adults, but they are accepting it, mainly because they are seeing a difference in people’s behaviour – 60% of the children here are now going to school, with the majority of the rest being children who have been abandoned. Whilst people are happy to feed these kids, and give them somewhere to sleep, in most cases it hasn’t been expanded to paying for them to go to school aswell as they just don’t have the money to do so.
They want War Child to help them put together some day projects to get these kids off the streets and into education, but also want what they call “motivations” like phone credits for the time they spend on the committee as the time they are spending doing this means less time “getting food for the family”. Whilst undoubtedly true, I’m not sure they understand the long term benefit of what they are doing, but in a country where conflict and war have been the order of the day for most of their lives, and where life expectancy is just 48, it’s not that surprising that they don’t take the long term view – hopefully with education, this can change, in the same way as they now understand that child labour is bad, that children should go to school, and that sexual violence is a bad thing.
For me, the work War Child are doing here really should be down to the government, but they don’t seem to do much really, so it’s good that someone is doing it. The committee are well aware of this too, and are very grateful to War Child.
We then went to UNOCHO, then for some lunch (where I had the best chicken I’ve ever tasted – Nando’s ain’t got nothing on Fatimata’s), before going back to War Child’s Goma office for the debrief meeting.
In the evening, I even managed to have pancakes. Result. Bizarrely, despite all the hardship, troubles, conflict and desperate poverty, I’ll miss Goma. I’ll be back.
Interesting random stat – in Massisi center, where we visited the other day, War Child were aware of 5 IDP camps. In the last month, another 6 have sprung up with no sanitation, no power, and no help from NGO’s. This shows that displacement is getting a lot worse, having more than doubled in a month, so random attacks and conflict seem to be getting worse, not better – not a good thing, seeing as most of the organisations we’ve spoken to in the last few days are telling us it’s getting better.