Walikale, in The Democratic Republic of Congo, is an active military operation zone that sees frequent clashes between government forces and a multitude of other armed groups in the region. Because of this continuous conflict, thousands of people have fled their homes for the relative safety of larger towns. Being displaced from one’s home because of conflict is very disruptive to a family’s livelihood, and the loss of the ability to support themselves can cause depression and rifts between family members, as well as, with members of their new community.
Through our Community Resource Centers, International Medical Corps offers skill-building and educational opportunities to vulnerable men and women, including survivors of gender based violence and people displaced because of armed conflict. These learning opportunities are empowering for survivors and aid in their recovery. New skills and knowledge learned in the Community Resource Centers can also increase their opportunities to earn income and become self-sufficient again. This is the story of Nicia* who benefitted from International Medical Corps supported livelihood programming in Walikale:
Nicia came to Walikale in August of 2011 to escape intense fighting between two armed groups in Ntoto. She walked for over 60 miles with her husband and five children, and was housed by generous residents in Walikale. While they had found a much safer place to live by fleeing to Walikale, Nicia’s husband had great difficulty supporting the family because he did not have a job or land to cultivate. In December, he decided to go work in the nearby mines. Nicia told us that:
“After a few months, he came back and took all our belongings from the shelter where we were staying and all the money I had. He declared a divorce and left. I felt angry and disappointed. I started worrying about how I would pay the rent; and how I would feed my children and take them to school. Where would I get the money to pay for medicine if they got sick? The more these questions crossed my mind, the angrier I became with myself for having left Ntoto and allowing my husband to walk away. I kept thinking that I could have stopped him from leaving me alone to raise five children. I had to rely on handouts for food and my children did not go to school. I prayed to God each day to protect my children from all forms of illness because I knew I did not have any money to care for their medical bills. At night, sleep was replaced with more worries."
After her husband left, Nicia began noticing a group of women that walked past her residence every day. She asked her landlord about them and she said they were going to a center that taught women how to support themselves financially by learning new skills and producing goods to sell in town. The next morning, Nicia followed the group of women to the International Medical Corps Community Resource Center. When she arrived, she was referred to a woman that helped her understand that her current situation was not her fault and encouraged her to participate in the center’s activities.
In June, Nicia began participating in some of the economic activities that take place at the center, including: embroidery, knitting and bread making. While there, she met other women who had also been abandoned by their husbands, but were now able to take care of their families. The success of the women in similar situations gave her hope, but as Nicia said “I was still worried about the future of my children although I was now able to earn some little money from the sale of the things I had made at the center, but I remembered my soap making business and I asked if I could receive some money to restart it”.
Nicia was referred to a man at the center that helped her learn about starting a business and she also took a business skills training course. In November, Nicia received the materials she would need to start making soap again, thus restarting her business. “I was overjoyed! I could now start earning money to buy food and pay for school fees for my children.”
In order to sell her soap, Nicia would travel up to 6 miles a day to different areas of Walikale. She used the early profits from her business to purchase more raw materials to make soap, and eventually began saving money to buy a plot of land for her family. After saving $500, she bought a plot of land that she will build a house on once she can afford to buy the required building materials.
“My life has changed thanks to the support I got from the International Medical Corps. My eldest child is now in his 5th year of primary school, and all of my other children are continuing with school. They are healthier now because I am able to feed well. I no longer worry because I am able to work for myself.”
*(Nicia’s name has been changed for privacy purposes)
International Medical Corps inspires young women on International African Child Day:
On International African Child Day (June 16th), International Medical Corps’ Women in Leadership team (WiLEAD) organized an awareness session with girls in Kadutu, located in the Bukavu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). WiLEAD is a group of women that work to promote female leadership in the DRC by partnering with local women’s organizations and schools. During this particular promotional event, the young women were asked to list the people who inspired them.
Most of the girls identified their own mother as their inspiration; they recognized the challenges their mothers face while raising a large family, a commonality in the region. Few of the girls were able to identify an inspiration outside of their own family. Spurred by this, the Women in Leadership team invited local female leaders to speak with the adolescent girls to show them the types of leadership roles they could aspire to hold. Meeting these women leaders also provided an alternative positive female role model the girls could identify with and emulate.
Opportunities for women to express themselves:
But it isn’t only adolescent females that have a problem being seen as community leaders – seasoned female leaders still have difficulty being heard in Congo as well. Women’s groups have been unable to celebrate International Women’s Day due to lack of financial support, which limits their ability to raise awareness or carry out activities to promote women as leaders.
This year, however, International Medical Corps organized a separate event and invited government officials to meet with women’s associations and local groups in order to hear their questions and concerns. Government officials were educated on the issues female leaders face, and these officials promised to work further with the women’s groups in the future. Ms. Vanantie Bimwa, Executive Secretary of the Women’s Association for Development and Peace had this to say about the meeting:
“On this day, March 8th, International Women’s Day, the women of South Kivu, including those from the grassroots level association, got a real opportunity to talk, thanks the support of International Medical Corps which brought women association together. Usually, when we attend ceremonies, we cannot say what we think or ask the government about the progress for women’s development in our province. This time, we had our own activity supported by International Medical Corps where local government representatives were invited to listen to us and answer some of our questions. As a result of this activity, we have several working sessions planned with the Governor of the province of South Kivu to discuss the issue of the development for women.”
We thank you for your continued support in the Democratic Republic of Congo – with your help, we make a difference!
In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), International Medical Corps continues to run youth clubs that are designed to encourage the next generation of women leaders in their community.
Sessions at the clubs explore gender issues, healthy relationships and the role of women in the communities. Young women at the clubs can participate in life skills courses on topics such as decision making, confidence building and setting goals. Local women from the community also act as mentors for the young women.
The clubs are also open to young men, to promote equality and dialogue with their female peers. International Medical Corps’ youth groups aim to make young men supportive of female leaders within their communities.
International Medical Corps' focus on both boys and girls promotes an organic, holistic approach the changing attitudes and behaviors. This approach is the most effective way to make DRC safer and more supportive for women and girls.
UN officials have called DRC the epicenter of rape as a weapon of war, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited rape victims in eastern Congo in 2009 in an effort to draw more attention to one of Africa’s most disturbing conflicts.
In the DRC, International Medical Corps takes a holistic approach to addressing violence against women, so that survivors have access to medical, psychosocial, legal, economic, and social resources needed to recover as well as work with communities to prevent and reduce violence against women. We offer case management and emotional support services for survivors of GBV. We also provide legal services, livelihoods training and economic opportunities to help survivors recover and become self-reliant.
Over the last 2 years in North and South Kivu, International Medical Corps has:
Justice for victims of violence is elusive in DRC. Perpetrators of violence walk free within days—if ever caught in the first place. What’s more, social stigma prevents women from seeking treatment or reporting attacks.
But, International Medical Corps is working to change attitudes towards women.
“Community leaders in Bukavu were called for training on women in leadership. When I heard, I was not interested in attending, but the M’ze (chief) sent me to represent him. For me, it was a women’s issue. Though I have daughters, I have never thought I have something to discuss with them. And these young women came (project facilitator) and talked about how girls can face problems outside of home, in schools, in the street and how they need our support as family heads, as parents. On the second day, we discussed the benefit of including girls at all level of decisions.
I felt impressed and touched by the message. I have four daughters whom I had never find necessary to discuss something different from my food to be served. From this training venue, I think I will start to start.‘’
-60-year-old man , Bukavu International Medical Corps’ efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo focus not only on women, but also on their families. The participant quoted above took part in a training session on the inclusion of women in decision-making for community and religious leaders. The workshop included both men and women, and discussed topics from the principles of community mobilization to the legal instruments that protect women and advocacy. These topics are key to educating communities about women’s rights.
Workshops like the one described above bring together community leaders and empower them to create change within their own families. By educating community elders – and their sons, daughters, wives and husbands, International Medical Corps helps leaders set an example for the entire community, changing the way women and girls are treated.
The teenagers of Bunyakiri High School in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have lived their entire lives in a region at the center of one of Africa's most brutal and violent conflicts. Women and girls there also carry enormous burdens in tending farms, carrying water and firewood, and caring for families. In this environment of gender inequality, women and girls are at high risk of multiple forms of gender-based violence (GBV), including rape, domestic violence, and forced marriage.
Through a unique collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development, International Medical Corps is educating and sensitizing young people about women's rights, sexual health and the consequences of GBV. It is especially important to reach young people who are still developing their ideas about gender and relationships, which tend to be more ingrained in adults. One of the ways in which we engage young people to promote peace and change attitudes and behaviors about violence is through soccer.
By bringing together groups of girls from different villages across South Kivu province to play soccer, International Medical Corps' GBV experts can reach a wide audience to educate young people about their rights under the law, such as their protection from forced marriage under the age of 18, as well as information about where survivors of sexual violence can find help our health centers. The games also build connections between communities that have been kept isolated in recent years because of violence and insecurity. As a result, young people are reached directly and also made champions within their families and communities for a more promising and peaceful future.
One female 10th grade Bunyakiri High School student told us, “Because of the [girls' soccer] matches we play, I have met many new friends from areas outside my village. I say to my family that I am the example of gender equality because I go to play matches all over Bunyakiri."
International Medical Corps has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1999, providing more than one million people with health care, health sector training, gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and treatment, nutrition, food security, and water and sanitation services. Our complementary USAID-funded Care, Access, Safety & Empowerment and Behavior Change Communications projects in DRC take a comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of GBV survivors, while also preventing future cases by changing community attitudes around gender and violence.
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Resource Development Officer