Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is marked by the presence of numerous armed groups, particularly in North and South Kivu, who fight for control of the country’s vast natural resources (including gold, diamonds and rare earth minerals), terrorizing civilians and causing millions to suffer from ongoing conflict and displacement. The fighting causes massive population movement from areas where there is active fighting to areas of relative calm. Besides the risk of losing their lives, internally displaced persons (IDPs) also lose their property, means of livelihood and social support networks as families disperse, rendering them more vulnerable.
International Medical Corps currently supports 68 clinics and hospitals in North and South Kivu, providing medical supplies, training for health workers, and referral and transfer for patients in need of advanced care. In areas with no clinics, International Medical Corps runs mobile medical units to give vulnerable populations access to vital health care services. We also deliver health care in three transit camps for refugees returning to their home villages. In addition to supporting existing health facilities and providing mobile medical services, International Medical Corps works in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health and non-governmental organizations to increase the number of well-trained health professionals in DRC, including midwives.
Midwives have been of great support to health centers and community in Walikale, and provide safe delivery and essential newborn care, helping to ensure women are healthy and giving their babies a better opportunity to grow into healthy children and adults. Not only do midwives support mothers from maternity to birth, but they also deliver comprehensive sexual reproductive health services including: counselling; malaria treatment during pregnancy; and services to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission.
The impact of their work is vital to building healthy communities -- the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Confederation of Midwives assert that midwives can prevent up to 90 percent of maternal deaths where they are authorized to practice their competencies, and play a full role during pregnancy, childbirth and after birth (UNFPA, 2010). Giving birth without professional assistance increases the risk of developing complications such as fistula and infections that could affect either the mother or the child and lead to maternal and infant death. Midwives trained by International Medical Corps possess the skills needed to be their own best “First Responders” – helping women avoid or treat complications and deliver healthy babies.
Anastaticia, whose life was saved by an International Medical Corps-trained midwife in Eastern DRC, explained her potentially life-threatening situation; “I started labor at home, called for help and a friend came to assist. She, however, could not complete the delivery. I had to be rushed to the health center not far from my village for emergency assistance. The midwife at the health center was able to stop the bleeding and save the life of my baby, and I woke up to see my baby next to me. During the process, I was diagnosed as having developed a fistula, and had surgery to repair it 6 months later. The experience at the health center and the support from the midwives helped save my life and the life of my baby.’’
International Medical Corps’ Women in Leadership (WiLead) project began in August 2012 with the goal of strengthening existing and creating new women leadership roles and promoting an environment that supports and encourages future women leaders in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This project was designed to train women in organizational development and management skills, empowering them to become more effective leaders; increase the understanding of women’s leadership roles in their communities; and teach communities the importance and benefits of establishing women-friendly leadership structures.
The WiLead project partnered with 434 religious, traditional and political leaders (159 of which were women) and challenged them through training sessions, workshops, discussions and debates, to change traditional laws that discriminate against women and girls and create space for women’s participation in leadership positions. After the program, and with the support of local women’s associations, women experienced tangible gains in their communities: 21 women were nominated in the council of elders in Kalonge; religious leaders offered a piece of land for women to construct a small hut for meetings instead of meeting at the river or farms where they are at risk of attack by armed groups; one women was nominated to the tribal council in both Bukavu and Bunyakiri; and women representatives are now attending security briefing meeting held each week at the Bunyakiri Administration office.
To further nurture future women leaders and educate adolescents on gender equality, International Medical Corps supported the creation of adolescent clubs where mentors worked to develop a positive perception of women and girls in their community. In total, 28 adolescent clubs were created and educated participants through open discussions between boys and girls on gender issues, good citizenship, peaceful coexistence, and positive ambitions. Girls-only sessions helped young women develop positive ambitions and draw on female leaders from their communities as role models. A total of 672 adolescents (332 girls) participated in the adolescent club activities.
Below is a story from a female participant in an International Medical Corps-supported adolescent club:
I am a 16 year old student at Cholobera institute, and I started participating in adolescent club discussions in August, 2014. It was the first time that I participated in a discussion where everyone was expected to express their own point of view. At the beginning, it was difficult for me and all the girls to speak before the boys and give a different opinion, because it is against our culture to disagree with boys in front of other boys. Little by little, the facilitator encouraged us to express ourselves, and I started gaining enough confidence to do so without feeling shame or fear. We continued having discussion sessions, and as we went along, I realized the sessions were helping me recognize my potential as a leader instead of simply helping me express myself in front of others.
Before joining the club, I had no ambitions and lacked knowledge regarding many things. I never knew what rights men and women had, nor did I know that there were special laws that protected children. I was also never taught about hygiene; sexually transmitted infections; the consequences of unwanted pregnancies; or even the menstrual cycle, because these subjects are not taught in school. The mentors at the adolescent club taught me about these legal and health subjects, which empowered me to take ownership of my future and become an active participant in my community. If I had not joined the adolescent club, I may have taken a very different path.
When I was 14 years old, I thought about dropping out of school to get married just as my older sisters had done. Fortunately, the Women in Leadership project started and I realized that it was not the time to think about marriage, because there were more important things to do. After participating in the program, I decided to get my certificate and then go to university in Bukavu. I started taking my studies more seriously and I became the second best student in my class. My parents noticed a change in my behavior and achievements, and are now giving me the same responsibility as my older brothers. My father wants my sisters to join the adolescent club, and he is encouraging me to avoid relationships with boys so that I can focus on my dreams. When I am done with university, I plan on coming back to shape the future of Kalonge.
I believe that I can truly make a difference in my community, because International Medical Corps already helped us deliver a project rehabilitating water sources in Kalonge. Access to clean water represents one of the biggest needs in Kalonge, and through this project, we were able to show the community that young people had an important role to play in its development while helping resolve a problem that even adults had not been able to solve.
With the support of Kalonge women leaders, our club decided to expand into the neighboring village to continue safe-guarding our leadership ambitions, and to give a similar chance to young women in other communities.”
Between July 23 and 25, 2014, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan provided basic disaster training and distributed emergency evacuation kits to individuals working and/or receiving services at the Kibou no Mori Welfare Association. Kibou no Mori runs several job-creation facilities for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), as well as a rehabilitation center to help PWDs develop the skills they need to live independently in their community.
Over the three-day period, International Medical Corps’ Country Representative, Yumi Terahata, and AAR Japan’s Project Coordinator, Atsushi Naoe, visited 6 Kibou no Mori facilities to provide emergency preparedness training to residents and to distribute 212 emergency evacuation kits. During the training sessions, we emphasized the importance of being mentally and physically prepared for an emergency, such as: having an emergency plan with family and loved ones; stocking enough food, drinking water and water for daily needs in the home for at least three days; and writing out the names of medication, emergency contact numbers, and other important details, and always carrying around this information in case support is needed.
The Kibou no Mori facilities that employ PWDs and were visited by International Medical Corps for training and emergency evacuation kits included:
Keyaki Kyodo Sagyojo: Makes and delivers lunch boxes to regular customers, as well as, provides lunch delivery services for the elderly at the bequest of Iwaki City.
Kobo Keyaki: Under the philosophy of “Jisan-Jishou (produce locally, consume locally)”, this facility uses locally-grown soybeans to make “Iwaki-made tofu” and delivers this product to customers. This studio also runs a small café where customers can buy side dishes, tofu products and lunch boxes.
Atelier Kitayama: This facility uses the tofu and soy pulp produced at Kobo Keyaki to make donuts and cookies. They also make various side dishes. The staff also sells these products door-to-door.
Mori-no-Donuts: This shop makes and sells a wide variety of fried and baked donuts out of soy pulp. PWDs are on both the sides of production and customer service.
Futaba-no-Sato: The PWDs working at this facility collect old paper for recycling and create tin-buttons, rusk snacks, and small accessories.
Friends Kitayama: This facility assists PWDs in developing the skills necessary to live independently within the community. Here, they learn a wide range of life skills ranging from safety, both inside and outside the home; manners and etiquette; health and nutrition; simple budgeting, etc.
During the Tohoku Earthquake of 2011, the Keyaki Kyodo Sagyojo facility became an emergency evacuation center for the PWDs working there. More than 20 PWDs sheltered in the building, including 7 individuals who had to be evacuated from another Kibo no Mori facility located in Naraha, a town in close proximity to the nuclear power plant accident. Mr. Sugawara, the director-general of Kibou no Mori, spoke about his experience running this facility as a makeshift emergency shelter.
"They all had to survive at Keyaki for a week until they received assistance from the local government. Fortunately, they had drinking water from a nearby well and collected water to flush the toilet from the river. They were also lucky in that they had food in stock, usually used for the bento services they provided."
This experience made Mr. Sugawara realize how Keyaki has the potential to also function as an emergency shelter for the community. Whereas during the Tohoku disaster they could only provide shelter and care for their users, Mr. Sugawara would like the facility to also be able to provide assistance to other vulnerable individuals in the community, such as the neighborhood elderly.