Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Since the change of government at the end of March 2013, humanitarian organizations have been facing additional logistical and security restrictions that make it even harder than before to reach this part of the country. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been present in the region since 2010, but it was forced to scale down its activities when its base in RafaÃ¯ was looted in March. Despite that, it is continuing to support local communities and displaced people living in the area by providing them with equipment to boost their livelihoods and therefore the local economy.Cassava grinders lighten the load
"When I tell the children to help me grind the cassava, they ask me why we don't use the grinder instead," said Isabelle with a laugh. Long accustomed to having to hand-grind this food staple, she and the others in the south-eastern village of Obo soon got used to the grinding machines provided by the ICRC. These are hired out by local committees, which charge around 15 euro cents for each 10-litre bucket of ground cassava produced. The money earned is then used to pay for the machines' upkeep. "Grinding cassava, which used to take over an hour, is now a five-minute job," said Blaise, a volunteer from the Central African Red Cross who oversees the programme in Obo. "This means the women have more time to look after their children and prepare the evening meal when they get back from the fields."Bicycles and carts power the local economy
The principle of local management was also applied to the hiring of bicycles and carts to transport bricks and other heavy or cumbersome objects. After a rather laborious process to get everything in place â all the equipment had to be transported by truck and unloaded and reloaded at each river crossing â the programme finally got under way at the end of October 2012. "There is still room for improvement," said Hyppolite, the president of one of the management committees in ZÃ©mio. "It takes time to get things up and running, and some carts have already had to be repaired, but the initial feedback is positive." In ZÃ©mio, the carts are mainly used to bring the cassava harvest back to the village more quickly and easily, thereby reducing theft of this much sought-after foodstuff directly from the fields.Local businesses get the equipment they need
This new aid set-up involves not only loaning bicycles, carts and cassava grinders through the local management committees, but also providing equipment to blacksmiths, woodcutters, mechanics, carpenters and other local businesses. The Wissa brothers in Mboki are among those to receive tools. They have been working together for several years and have finally been able to get a woodworking plane â a tool that they could never afford before.ÂSince 2012, 136 bicycles, 110 carts, 36 cassava grinders and more than 120 toolkits have been distributed to communities in the south-east of the Central African Republic. Through this initiative, the ICRC is aiming to improve the availability of the services offered by local businesses and the transport and processing of food staples.
"Before, we had to do it all with a knife," they explained, "but now, with the plane, we get a smoother finish. This has attracted new customers." They build chairs, tables, doors and window frames and hope to use the money they earn to invest in other tools to make their work simpler and better.