Democratic Republic of Congo
the story so far…
In spite of its immense resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo witnesses a situation of profound crisis and instability. It has been plagued by an internal conflict which, although ended with a peace accord in 2003, still continues, especially in the Eastern regions. An estimated 4.5 million people died - either as direct victims of the conflict or of disease and malnutrition -between 1998 and 2004. The country has known an enormous amount of violence and rape by armed groups that has contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Congo's wealth is the source of all the woe of its population, victims of atrocious acts of violence and violation of human rights, living in situations of unbearable poverty, disease, hunger and lack of prospects for the future. Less than 45% of the Congolese population has access to clean drinking water. According to UN and international NGOs estimates, at least 45,000 Congolese die monthly from conflict-related causes: starvation and preventable diseases. Women and children have been the main victims of the war that has ravaged the country. Today, sexual violence is still used as a strategy of war, above all in the eastern regions, where fighting and massacres continue. In 2007 the country witnessed a resurgence of ebola, a devastating disease, and the entire south was cordoned off for practically the entire year. Ebola has reappeared again in 2018 and there are several cases in the East.
The indigenous peoples of DRC (or Pygmies), deserve special attention since they are victims of discrimination. Traditionally they lived in symbiosis with nature (thick forests), practicing hunting and gathering. Their knowledge of their environment allowed them their survival in a difficult environment which they managed sustainably for centuries. Now the majority of them have been driven out of their forests because of the creation of national parks and protected areas. Most of them have found themselves landless and live as squatters on other peoples’ land. The dominant groups in DRC consider the Bambuti and other indigenous groups dirty, deceitful and uncivilised. They are often described as creatures, not human beings. Their basic human rights are persistently and frequently violated. Some of them have been victims of rape, sexual abuse and even cannibalism during the recent war.
SONIA has been supporting four initiatives in DRC, three of them in the territory of Lwiza, a very remote area of DRC, in close proximity to the Angola border and one in South Kivu, in favour of the Bambuti.
The majority of the population living in the territory of Lwiza comprises refugees and internally displaced people from the adjoining regions, victim of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Katanga (Shaba) in 1991 and of other internal conflicts that have plagued the country. Amongst the refugees there is a sizeable proportion of unwed mothers, victims of the rapes having taken place during the various conflicts. The rate of HIV/AIDS there is quite high and the locality harbours a disproportionate amount of orphans, both war and HIV/AIDS related.
Read more about our project:
The Projects in LWIZA
Restoring the Livelihoods of the Bambuti refugees
1. The Projects in LWIZA
SONIA has worked, in partnership with PROFAL, a local grassroots organization, in Lwiza, Democratic Republic of Congo since 2005. It has helped construct six water sources, a primary school and associated infrastructure as well as preparatory teacher courses, school supplies and also a scholarship fund for orphans. SONIA financed tailoring training for young unmarried mothers with the objectives of providing professional training and making them self-sufficient. The turnover of the centre also financed 495 scholarships in 2016 and in the same year 1,200 children were enrolled at the school with 47% of them being girls.
In March 2017, this story came to an abrupt end with the invasion and destruction carried out by the Kamuina Nsapu militia in the region. They burned entire villages (crops, houses and infrastructure), destroying local peoples’ livelihoods by stealing and killing livestock, crops and other assets. SONIA is now assisting in the rebuilding the livelihoods of the affected communities by making an important emergency donation at the end of 2017 to enable them to buy essential seeds, cuttings and tools to take advantage of the monsoons and also provide them with small livestock. In order to reduce infant mortality rates that had climbed to 45%, SONIA provided additional funding to rebuild the destroyed water system in 2018. To everyone’s delight, the monsoons were good the harvest was satisfactory and malnutrition decreased considerably. In 2018, with the financial assistance of SONIA, the community rebuilt the school in record time . They now need school manuals and school desks. Be part of the change and support us now.
Drinking Water Supply
SONIA has supported an initiative aiming at providing clean water supply to the local populations. Six water sources were built by harnessing natural spring water. The civil work was achieved in record time by the local populations who provided all the labour required through self-help while SONIA financed the purchase of imported material (cement, pipes, faucets, etc.). After completion of the civil works, a management committee, comprising five women and three men and presided by a woman, was elected. This committee, on its own, started an awareness raising campaign on the importance of clean water and hygiene of the water sources. It also raised contributions from the local populations to establish a small maintenance fund for the infrastructures built. Due to the prevailing poverty of the area, contributions were mostly in kind. The establishment of this fund is a good indicator of the importance of clean water supply to the concerned populations as well as of their degree of awareness and responsibility. Reports from the President of the management committee indicate a decrease in infant mortality due to a drop in the incidence of diarrhoea and related malnutrition and of other water-born diseases.
SONIA has supported, through PROFAL, local communities to build a primary school; community members have provide labour and all local material (sand, stones, wood, water, etc.) and SONIA has funded the imported ones. In addition to school construction, the project has also financed the recycling of the teachers, provision of textbooks and of didactic material, construction of water tanks and of a schoolgarden to feed the orphans. In addition the project has also benefited the unwed mothers as they have received/are receiving literacy and numeracy classes. The building was finished at the end of 2009. As a result of awareness campaigns about the importance of sending children, especially girls to school, the enrolment rate increased substantially: from 74 students (22 girls and 52 boys successfully completing an academic year before the school was built) to 417 in 2009-10 academic year. During the same period, girls enrolment increased tenfold (from 22 to 220).
Bursary Fund and Skills Training for Unwed Mothers
A Bursary Fund was established in 2009 in favour of the orphans in the area. A bursary management committee was established with the mandate to manage and ensure the growth of the bursary fund. In order to ensure its sustainability, the fund was divided in two parts: one to scholarships to girls and boys orphans. A second part was utilised to buy seeds to cultivate a large collective field – where all household members of the villages’ beneficiaries of the school provided free labour - and to purchase staples right after harvest, when prices are low, to be resold later on, when prices are high. Other income generating activities undertaken by the management committee include brick making and collecting and selling firewood. After 1 year of functioning, the proceeds from these activities are put back into the fund. In the last two years, the bursary has been able to pay scholarships for 142 orphans.
Towards the end of 2009, with the support of SONIA and the group Fasting For Food, PROFAL launched a professional training programme designed to benefit unwed mothers of the area. In addition to providing professional training (garment tailoring) for these girls, the proceeds of the sales of the items manufactured will also go to the bursary fund. The training is on-going and the trainees have already realised some profits and have been able to contribute to the bursary fund.
In Lwiza SONIA works in partnership with the Association “Development of the Abandoned Families of Lwiza” (PROFAL) . PROFAL was originally promoted by the archbishop of Lwiza, but now is a laic organization. It emerged as a response to the needs and aspirations of the local populations seeking to survive, in a dignified way, in a country ravaged by endless internal conflicts, external aggressions and ethnic cleansing. Main areas of intervention of PROFAL are as follows:
Primary education as well as vocational training for the unwed mothers;
Development of sustainable and environmental friendly agriculture;
Improvement of small livestock raising (chicken, sheep, goats, pigs and rabbits);
Bursary Fund for orphans
Access to clean drinking water.
Each sector has its own management committee – comprising 6 to 8 members – that coordinates all the activities related to the specific sector. The various committees relate directly to the central management committee – whose members are 50% women – and at its apex there is a President, a Vice-President, an accountant, a treasurer and a secretary.
2. Restoring the Livelihoods of the Bambuti refugees
During 2009, refugees and Internally Displaced Bambuti (commonly known as pygmies) who were in refugee camps during the war in North Kivu, started to return to their villages of origin. These groups did not have any means to rebuild their livelihoods. SONIA started a small programme in the territory of Masisi for 200 returnees’ families: each household received seeds and very simple implements to start cultivating some food. The bean and maize harvest was quite successful, and, according to the women interviewed, all families were able to reach self-sufficiency and to keep seeds to cultivate again the following growing season. In 2010, SONIA started a more ambitious programme for about 600 returnee families residing in the territories of Masisi, Nyirangongo e Rutshuru, where Bambuti families eke a living through complementary activities: agriculture, fishing and handicrafts.
In each of the territories two hectares of land were bought to allow for the groups to reproduce their own seeds. Seeds were multiplied by women’s groups and redistributed to all Bambuti families living in the area. In addition to seeds and implements, returnee families were engaging in micro-credit activities and some of them received small loans to start income generating activities according to their own specificities: some received assistance for handicrafts (pottery, weaving, tailoring and/or embroidery), others for fishing. Small savings and credit groups were established and started their own saving schemes. Credit was given in turn to groups and to members of these groups on a rotating basis. In addition to receiving training in productive skills, group members were provided with training in savings and managing group credit as well as in small enterprise management. In addition to assistance for restoring their livelihood, Bambuti families received training and sensitization on their rights as citizens. As a result of this training, 141 cases of rights violations (rape, sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detention) were identified and denounced to the authorities. In addition, sixty-one leaders met repeatedly with local authorities to lobby for their rights
In 2011 another 300 refugee families were added to SONIA's programme, bringing the total number of beneficiary households to 1.100. The fishermen and artisan families began micro-credit activities and started to earn an income. However, in 2012 the arrival of the M23 rebels partially wiped out these results by devastating the region again, forcing several families to abandon their villages and take refuge in Goma (the closest city), becoming again internally displaced. In 2013 the MUC and the national army's military intervention led the M23 to evacuate the area, and local security improved considerably. In 2014 many Bambuti wanted to send their children to school but could not afford the expenses. At the request of our local partner, SONIA agreed to set up a bursary fund that would finance school fees, uniforms, shoes and a school kit for Bambuti children. For the academic year 2014-15, 105 children received scholarships, 37% of them were girls. This is the first time ever that such a large number of Bambuti children are attending school all at the same time.
In 2015, SONIA, with the financial support from the Valdese Church, financed another initiative. The Valdese Church financed the construction of 10 housing units for very poor families (widows, women heads of households, and destitute families) whereas SONIA financed the setting up and running of a training and exhibit centre in Mubambiro. The first batch of trainees in tailoring and stitching were 50 Bambuti women and girls and two men. It also financed the equipment in Mudja of two large tanks for retaining rain water as an income generating activity. In both villages a management committee has been established to look after the facilities and manage the funds generated.
Since 2009, SONIA, in partnership with UEFA, a local indigenous organization, has assisted in supporting marginalised Bambuti communities in North and South Kivu in the DRC. It has financed projects aimed at providing agricultural income-generating activities, training on individual and collective rights of Bambuti refugees and education for young people. It has also contributed to the reduction of vulnerability and increase the empowerment of indigenous women and girls. In 2017, it financed workshops on the electoral process and facilitated registration for 3,500 adults. In 2018 SONIA supported the training of 64 indigenous women from North and South Kivu on how to select and manage lucrative income generating activities. They received an IGA starter kit and have now developed their own microenterprises. The technical staff of UEFA have been mentoring them constantly.
In 2014, at the request of UEFA, SONIA set up a scholarship fund aimed at financing tuition fees, uniforms, shoes and school kits for Bambuti children. Bambuti parents in the territory of Mudja and Mumbambiro (North Kivu) began to appreciate the importance of education for their children. Due to their extreme poverty, they could not afford to pay school fees and related expenses. The scholarship fund is aimed at tackling this problem. In 2016/17, 258 children were enrolled in primary schools with 64% of these being girls and this number has been increasing steadily. This is enormous progress when taking into account that the school began in 2017/15 with 100 children. In 2018 SONIA financed the same package for 50 secondary school girls.
Local partner – UEFA
In North Kivu SONIA works in partnership with UEFA (Union pour l’Émancipation de la Femme Autochtone), a non profit NGO, established in 1998 to work with indigenous women and their families. UEFA has been working with several different key areas related to the Bambuti life:
Humanitarian Assistance (food delivery, shelter);
Counselling (related to violence, sexual violence), including counselling for men who have been violent against women;
Human rights education (capacity building, awareness raising, learning for transformation) and rights to land and related natural resources;
Rehabilitation of schools and financial support for school uniforms and materials;
Long term self-determined sustainable development related to agriculture, small livestock raising, (rabbits, pigs, guinea pigs) and fishing;
Handicraft development and production;
Health (related to sexually Transmitted Diseases, HIV/Aids etc.);
Distribution of seeds;
UEFA disposes of a small cadre of dedicated indigenous professionals and staff.