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CEO BLOG: Why DR Congo matters

I’ve been able to visit two of our humanitarian responses recently – DR Congo and Ukraine. These are vastly different crises and only one dominates our news feeds. I first worked in DR Congo more than 20 years ago and I know that every year thousands of lives are saved by humanitarian organizations. Still, what I saw on the ground, and what I heard from the Congolese people, was truly shocking. Did you know that Congo faces one of the largest food crises in the world? Some 27 million people, or one in three, will likely go to bed hungry tonight. 

This is even more frustrating when you realize that the Congo is blessed with tremendous nutritious produce. There is delicious fruit of all varieties, vegetables, home-grown coffee and tasty local cheese. As I travelled in Eastern Congo I marveled at the beautiful green fields that could easily cater to the needs of families.

A little girl gazes at the green hills surrounding her in Ituri Province, DR Congo

DR Congo has no shortage of fruit and vegetables. Why is it also one of the world’s worst hunger crises? © Medair

So, why is this not happening? There are over 120 armed groups in Eastern Congo. Over 25 years constant conflict has created a climate of terror and insecurity. People repeatedly need to abandon their homes, fields, and livelihoods. It becomes impossible to have a business, a farm, or to send children to school consistently. Within Congo 5.5 million people are unable to return home.

 

Horrifying violence

The scale of the violence is truly horrifying. Edira, a mother of eight children, told our teams: “I’ve been displaced from my home for the past 3 years. My village was attacked several times. The last time it happened, I remember hearing gunshots approaching. I grabbed my children and ran. My husband wanted to stay to secure and protect our house. He never made it out. The attackers set fire to our homes with people trapped in them. My husband was killed, and most of my extended family and friends were too.”

Edira (foreground) is pictured with other patients at a Medair-supported Health Center in Ituri Province, in March 2022. © Medair

Edira has had to attempt to rebuild her life somewhere new, while also looking after her children alone. “I’m trying to find a job to help support my family. Some days, I’m able to work in the fields that belong to the community. But it doesn’t happen regularly.”

Like others in her situation, Edira is struggling to survive, far removed from the headlines. Year after year, Congo’s humanitarian response is severely underfunded, while needs keep increasing. The 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that 27 million people will need humanitarian assistance this year – that’s an increase of 7.4 million people since last year!

So much more attention urgently needs to be given to the plight of the Congolese people.

 

More than health care

Medair works in coordination with the Congolese Ministry of Health and other humanitarian agencies to provide life-sustaining services to people displaced from their homes, and to the communities that receive them. The work I saw our teams doing on the ground reminded me that, despite the immensity of the challenge, hope remains.

For 25 years, Medair has been working within existing public structures such as health centers and local general hospitals to provide free care. This method helps to strengthen local systems and ensures local staff are being trained. Our approach is multi-sectoral, including primary health care, nutritional treatment for children under five years old, and access to safe drinking water and sanitation services.

Visiting one of our health centres, I met people who rely on us to provide a place of safety when they are at their most vulnerable. A mother like Nema can bring her daughter, Esther, to be successfully treated for stomach aches; Georgette, whose baby girl Victoire has issues with her joints and cannot hold up her head by herself, can receive care and free follow-up at the general hospital. We even provide transportation to get there. These are places where Gisèle can welcome her beautiful new baby girl peacefully into the world, surrounded by her loved ones.

In a Medair health centre a Congolese woman holds her baby girl, approximately nine months old. The baby is unable to hold her head up on her own.

Georgette holds her baby girl Victoire in a Medair-supported Health Center in Ituri Province, in April 2022. © Medair

While in DR Congo, I also met a community leader who had personally prepared a hand-written letter for me. He wanted to thank our teams for the work they are doing. Amongst all of the challenges, moments like this remind me that our ‘people to people’ approach is indeed making a difference. They also remind me that we have a responsibility to shed more light on what is happening in the places that are forgotten by the media.

Medair CEO David Verboom accepts a hand-written letter from the leader of a community in Ituri Province, DR Congo.

Meeting men like this community leader in Ituri Province reminds me that, even in the face of overwhelming statistics, we make a difference in DR Congo. © Medair

We ourselves to forget

As a member of Integral Alliance, a group of NGOs working around the world and together in DR Congo, we will be bringing attention to forgotten crises. We are partnering with organisations such as Tearfund, Zoa and World Relief to raise more awareness on the situation in Congo so that this crisis can receive attention and, ultimately, additional funding.

I know that the sheer number of emergencies around the world can seem overwhelming, but consider how we all worked together to urgently respond to the Ukraine crisis. It was truly inspiring! I do hope you will consider standing with the Congolese people, whether by joining our prayer network, financial support, or raising awareness to your family, church, or community, so more people can be moved to action.

Above all, I hope you will join us in praying for peace in Congo so that families can finally look to a safer and more hopeful future in their communities. That is what they long for, as Edira shared with us: “We want to go home. I want to go back to my own fields. Through prayer and with God’s help, we will go home.”


This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.