Faustine Monga (right), a community health worker president, with his fellow workers in the fields of Kamina, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
John Nday / UMCOR DRC
October 15, 2012—It is now 10 years since UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) established an office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Against daunting odds and facing many extreme challenges, UMCOR DRC and their local and international partners have worked hard to help improve Congolese lives and livelihoods.
A vicious war that spanned two decades—a conflict often described as “Africa’s World War” as it involved armies and militias representing at least nine countries—has had a devastating impact on the DRC.
The country’s health has suffered terribly from lack of investment. According to the World Bank, DRC is one the world’s few countries where life expectancy has actually fallen in recent decades, and is now below its 1970 levels.
And despite the country’s mineral wealth — the main cause for outsiders’ involvement —the country remains fourth in the global ranking of poorest populations, a ranking compiled by the American Central Intelligence Agency.
But UMCOR DRC, based at its national office in the southeastern hub of Lubumbashi, has accomplished an extraordinary range of improvements in living conditions for many Congolese citizens.
Tens of thousands of displaced people from within the country and from across the country’s borders have been enabled to return to their home villages, and then achieve increased food security for themselves and their families.
Agricultural assistance has increased the availability of of seeds and tools, and production, and the direct distribution of food has been significantly increased. Training for improved agricultural production techniques has been ramped up, and the increased infrastructural base substantially improved.
Thousands of new hectares were cultivated in the Pweto and Moba territories through this project, benefitting an estmated 300,000 people at a total cost of more than $4million.
Across great swathes of the country, extensive programs for distributing mosquito nets, conducted with the support of the United Nations Foundation and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, have helped to combat malaria—a leading killer of children in the DRC.
And along with the nets, of course, there have invariably been full-scale efforts to raise awareness in communities about malaria treatment and prevention.
Improved water supplies and sanitation have been achieved for thousands of Congolese through hygiene education as well as the digging of new wells, provision of improved water carrying and storage capacity, and in many places the construction of latrines.
Education, not least for girls, has been addressed by programs varying in kind from building projects to reconstitute schools in terrible need of rehabilitation, to the provision of scholarships that enable vulnerable girls—notably those displaced by war, those from economically depressed families, and the disabled—to receive primary education. Assistance also has been provided in the forms of school uniforms, personal mentoring, and supplies of teaching materials.
And the list of projects goes on, involving numerous international and local partners, and benefiting countless citizens of this country that was once categorized by some as a hopeless case.
The Next Decade
As UMCOR’s second decade of operations begins, agriculture in Kamina, nearly 300 miles from Lubumbashi, will be the focus of some newly boosted work to combat the area’s high levels of disease, malnutrition, and poverty.
The project is in essence a fully integrated combination of health work alongside intensive efforts to instill farming practices that result in better harvests and greater food security.
“This program is deliberately designed as a fit for very poor communities,” says John Nday, UMCOR DRC’s manager for the initiative, “and it will change the living conditions even of those communities in extreme poverty.”
The project has been in pilot form for nearly three years now, and thanks to recently announced support from the Foods Resource Bank (an ecumenical U.S. Christian response to world hunger), it will be extending into more Kamina communities. FRB has collaborated with UMCOR in Kamina since 2003.
Faustine Monga Wa Ilunga, who lives in Kamina’s Shungu District, is a community volunteer who has been trained in health work and is now president of his local health workers’ group. He reports: “Before, I was not able to do anything with cases of kwashiorkor (severe protein deficiency).” Now, he says, "There are big changes in my work.”
The change in Faustine’s work is emblematic of UMCOR DRC’s experience as a whole over the last ten years of its operations.
“Our experience has given us renewed focus on critical issues like community health—nutrition as it relates to agriculture and health”, says Amber Kubera, UMCOR’s program manager for DR Congo. “That’s in addition to health needs overall—especially through efforts to combat malaria and HIV, and initiatives to improve maternal and child health.”
Your gift to Congo (DRC) Emergency, UMCOR Advance #198400, will support UMCOR’s work with the Congolese people.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to umcor.org.