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)
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Resource Development Officer