by Damaris Frick
International Emergency Services team member Damaris Frick reports on the reconstruction work taking place in the east of one of Africa’s largest and most war-torn countries
|Making bricks to build new houses|
|Nono with her sister Katherina|
|Zulita Kabamba and her sister in front of her straw hut |
|A villager begins to build his house|
|A Salvation Army team member helps measure out nails for frame-building|
|Nono carrying nails for a new house|
|Corps officer Captain Mutombo (left) with men from the village taking delivery of new tools|
NONO doesn’t know exactly how old she is – or so she tells me – but she knows she is old enough to take care of her little sister Katherina and to help with the other daily tasks. She also knows that her papa is the chief of the village of Kamalenge – one of four communities in the eastern part of Congo Kinshasa where The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services team is working alongside the Congo (Kinshasa) and Angola Territory.
Nono and her family have only recently returned to the village they had to flee because of war – there has been war all through Nono’s life. From 1994 the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly called Za´re) was devastated by ethnic strife and civil war. This period of conflict was the bloodiest since the Second World War. Almost four million people have died as a result of the fighting. Only now does there seem to be any real hope. On 30 July 2006, Congo Kinshasa held its first multi-party elections since independence in 1960. With the electoral results came a hope in a lasting peace. But there is still a long road to recovery.
Zulita Kabamba is another beneficiary in a scheme that is helping 230 families. Now a widow, she lives in the village of Mulange with her three small children. Like Nono and many others, Zulita fled from danger. She had to join others who hid in the dense forest that covers much of the region, moving from one refuge to another.
Yumba-Nyota is another widow in one of the villages The Salvation Army is working in. She is the mother of six children. When the soldiers came to her village they wanted to take her with them. Her husband defended her but because of that the soldiers killed him in front of her. Yumba-Nyota managed to run away with her children. They survived but nothing can bring back her husband.
So many people have stories like Yumba-Nyota and Zulita – stories of terrible suffering and fear. Getting them to return to their homes is a start but there is so much to be done.
Refugees and internally displaced persons such as Nono, Zulita and Yumba-Myota are returning to their home villages but when they arrive back ‘home’ most people find everything destroyed and whatever possessions they left behind have generally been looted. On top of all this, the farms they are returning to will need time to recover so food production is poor and nutritional levels are low.
Because most houses have been destroyed many villagers are living in straw shelters that are really too small for the number of people who are living there. Families run the risk of being exposed to bad weather and severe infections. Many are suffering from respiratory and skin diseases. There are high levels of tuberculosis and cholera which, because of the confined living space, are easily spread to other family members. In worst cases these diseases bring death but even the best-case scenario sees unproductive households struggling to survive.
Major Gracia Matondo, The Salvation Army’s Territorial Development and Emergency Secretary, together with the two International Emergency Services interns – Captain Comfort Adepojou (Nigeria) and Chris Parker (UK) – spent several weeks assessing the situation of returnees and other vulnerable people in the country. Working with the local people they developed a number of emergency programmes which are now under way.
I have the privilege to be here now in a beautiful country and a wonderful Salvation Army territory to help Major Matondo get the projects going.
Congo Kinshasa is a huge country and many areas are impossible to reach by road. To get to many parts of the country you have little choice but to take a plane. For Major Matondo it means a lot of work in distant and remote places. That is why I was sent to Kalemie to take care of the project in the nearby villages of Kamalenge, Mulange, Musenge and Cosma.
The village chiefs and Captain Mutombo, the Salvation Army officer in charge of the corps (church) at Kalemie, arranged for the people to be counted and a plan was made as to how to improve the living conditions. The people of each village now work together, making bricks and constructing their own houses. A mason hired by The Salvation Army gives advice about measurements, the stability of the buildings and how to build the frame for the roof. Once the construction is finished metal sheets and nails for the roof are provided and the mason explains how to fit it.
After weeks of hard work and preparation the big day arrived and the first metal sheets were delivered. Nono’s family was among those who had their houses ready for the roof to go on. With pride and joy they received sheets and nails for their house.
We only had a little pick-up truck which could carry sheets for just 18 houses but all the people were happy just to see the first distribution. The women were ululating and it seemed as if everyone was walking round with big smiles on their faces! For the villagers the metal sheets are a sign of hope – hope that the rainy season will hold back until all the new houses have roofs, hope that better times will start now and peace will prevail, hope that God hasn’t forgotten about the people of Congo Kinshasa.
Nono’s father Kuby Kombe-Tanke, the chief of Kamalenge, says: ‘I am 50 years old and no one has ever come to help us. But the people from The Salvation Army have kept their promises. They not only distributed things but they taught me how to build my own house.’
The work in the villages will not finish with the construction. Once the houses are ready the project will continue with agricultural training conducted with 20 delegates (men and women) from each village. They will learn how to plant, grow and harvest cassava, maize and vegetables, how to get the best results from their lands and how to work together. The agricultural project also includes the distribution of some tools and seeds so planting can start in November. This, I was told, is the right time for this to take place.
Chief Kuby told me: ‘We will plant tomatoes and other things. Then we can help the other vulnerable people in our area.’ It struck me that this was a beautiful thing to say in his situation – his people have so little but they are already looking at ways to help others.
The needs in ‘our’ four villages are repeated countless times across this vast country. They go way beyond the capacities of The Salvation Army. Already we have been asked by local authorities if we would assist them in building schools or if we would repeat the construction programme in more villages. We seem to be seen as the local experts in construction now – which is funny as I have never built anything myself!
We were told that other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had failed when they had undertaken similar projects. So what is the difference between them and The Salvation Army?
I honestly can’t judge the work of other NGOs but what I have seen Captain Mutombo and the other
staff in Kalemie doing deeply impresses me.
Captain Mutombo and his wife ‘Mama’ Captain Mutombo have four daughters. They were appointed to this post two years ago and it definitely is not the easiest appointment. To reach their divisional headquarters they have to go on a five-day train journey. The income from the corps that pays their salary is meagre but they are a wonderful, joyful couple with a big heart for others.
‘Others’ now includes me and means feeding me, making me part of their family and taking care of all I might need. But more importantly they show great care and love to people who have suffered from the long war.
The captain has established a relationship of trust and friendship with the people in the villages. I believe Zulita and Yumba-Nyota know that he will keep his promises and I am sure Nono has seen the true love he has for her family. They have experienced God’s love for them through a Salvation Army corps officer doing work that goes beyond normal corps duties. He and his wife are doing what God calls them to do and they are doing it with happy, generous, serving hearts.
Captain Mutombo and International Emergency Services worker Damaris Frick carry one of the roofing sheets
Yumba-Nyota with a roofing sheet that will make her new house habitable
Chief Kuby with his wife and four daughters
The first house gets its roof
Corps officers Captains Mutombo and their four daughters
Villagers work together to take the roofing sheets where they are needed