September, 5 2012
“We heard shooting and when we realized it was coming closer we took our baby and ran.” They had no time to take clothes, cooking pots, or any other belongings with them. “I waited for a few hours until the gunfire was gone and then went back to the house to get food, but the village and my house were burnt down,” Jean, the 20-year old father recounts of his flight.
Over the last couple of months, tens of thousands of people have been fleeing similar attacks by rebels in southern Masisi territory in the province of North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). More than 330,000 people have been displaced in the province alone. Several rivaling armed groups are continuing to create havoc in southern Masisi, where most of the displacement is concentrated right now and where CARE is present.
When the CARE team visited the spontaneous displacement camp in Kibabi on a sunny day in early September, Jean, his wife, and their five-month old baby had already left their home village Ngululu three weeks ago. They had walked for four days until they arrived in Kibabi where they decided to seek safety and shelter. They collected hay to construct a little hut where the family is staying. With the arrival of more than 2,310 displaced households, more or less 13,860 individuals, the displacement camp has grown into the size of a village. “I don’t know when we will be able to go back home,” Jean says as his head is tilted down. “We are cold at night and when it rains, we are not protected because our hut has no plastic sheeting.” Temperatures drop to close to zero degrees at night and the rainy season has started in full swing.
Jean continues, “We usually manage to eat [potatoes] once a day, I work in the fields of the local community, and my wife goes around asking for donations. But it’s not every day we eat and we eat very little.” Luckily, Kibabi has a natural water source where the displaced collect their drinking water from. “It came as a relief, when we received food from you [CARE]. We’ve got beans, flour, sugar, and some cooking oil. We have shared it with the people around us because not everybody received a voucher to go to the market. We can eat from it for a whole week.” Jean’s wife took their baby with her and walked for two hours to Rubaya, where the distribution is taking place. It is only the second food assistance in the area since the uprooting started late July.
CARE through the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funded project UMOJA+ and together with local partners has organized a week long food distribution for almost 4,000 households, or 24,000 people, through a voucher system. CARE spearheaded the innovative voucher system through which beneficiaries buy their food on the local market, which not only empowers them to choose items they need most, but also supports and safeguards the local economy.
Marie-Claire, a 32-year old single mom, who has arrived from Kasheke two weeks ago with her six kids and one on the way, is grateful for the beans, flour, and oil she was able to purchase using vouchers received from CARE, but is worried that it won’t last for long enough. “We share the food with everybody and when it is finished, we will die just like that,” she says with an exhausted voice and fatigue in her eyes.
Others echo similar sentiments of thankfulness. “Ever since we fled home, I’ve had difficulties feeding my six children. With the food fair, we finally have something to eat,” 47-year old Charles says with a sign of relief as one of his six kids holds his hand. They left their home village Buoye two months ago and took refuge in Katoyi. When Katoyi came under threat of an attack two weeks ago, they decided to pack up again and join the local population as they made their way to Kibabi. They found shelter in a primary school where up to ten households, or around 60 people, are crammed into one, small classroom filled with thick cooking smoke.
“We are going to eat for the first time since we left our home, Katoyi, four days ago,” 23-year old Julienne says as her newborn baby sleeps silently in a cloth tied around her back. 30-year old Francoise expresses similarly, “with the food fair, CARE is helping displaced people, children who are suffering of hunger.” She rests on the lawn next to her bags filled with rice and beans to regain some strength before she starts her four-hour walk back to Bukumbirire where she is sheltered in a host family.
As clouds suddenly appear on the sky, wind starts blowing down the hills, and chilliness overtakes the place, hundreds of women, children, and men continue to stand patiently in line to receive their food coupons, which will allow them and their families to eat for up to two weeks.
CARE provides life-saving assistance through various emergency projects in North Kivu and has already reached 84,000 people in need since the outbreak of the most recent crisis in eastern DRC. As the food distribution nears its end, UMOJA+ is already planning its next intervention in the area to provide shelter material and latrines.
About CARE: Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE has more than six decades of experience delivering emergency aid during times of crisis. Our emergency responses focus on the needs of the most vulnerable populations, particularly girls and women. Last year CARE worked in 84 countries and reached 122 million people around the world. To learn more, visit www.care-international.org.