Saturday, November 24, 2007

North Kivu

Visitors from HQ, trainings, orienting a new colleague, meetings with partners, reports to goes on! Last week I took the boat across the lake for the second time since I've been here and stayed three days in Goma to monitor a training that my local colleagues are providing to "animateurs" who will work with children in the IDP camps. The offensives in North Kivu continue (see BBC World Service or Relief Web for more details) and no one expects the fighting to end soon. Somewhere in the region of half a million people are now displaced and are moving into 20+ IDP camps scattered around North Kivu. UNHCR and other INGOs such as the Norwegian Refugee Council, World Vision, AVSI, and Save the Children are working to provide services to people in the camps - although not all camps can be safely reached due to the presence of various armed soldiers, militias, rebels, etc.

IDP camp in North Kivu

For me North Kivu and Goma itself are places of vastly conflicting feelings. There is a vicious war going on, yet Goma bears a strong resemblance to Kona, Hawaii, and the whole surrounding area is so similar to different parts of the Big Island of Hawaii, that I feel quite at home and totally foreign all at once. The presence of active volcanoes, the lava rock walls, the black sandy lanes, the lush bougainvillea, hibiscus and plumeria blossoms, the road along the water-front clogged with traffic...all these typical of both Kona and Goma. Allow peace to prevail, the rich mineral resources to be exploited in a legal manner with taxes paid and investments in the local area made, and this could be a popular international tourist destination. The actuality is rough roads, thousands of unemployed and underemployed people milling around scraping together whatever they can in order to survive; buildings destroyed by the lava flow of 2002 never rebuilt; poor water and sanitation facilities; and piles of black lava rocks left scattered throughout the center of town giving it a grim, dirty look.

Boy in an IDP camp, North Kivu

In the IDP camps people build their own rough shelters with local materials: sticks and small branches, covered with banana leaves. These small, rounded huts are then covered with the UNHCR plastic sheeting ubiquitous to this part of the world. The ground is rough with lava, I don't know what people place on the floor of their huts to protect themselves. Water and sanitation facilities are provided as quickly as possibly, depending on accessibility of the camp to aid workers. The camp I visited had a local president, a member of the displaced community, and local aid workers running the camp. I saw wood for cooking being distributed in an orderly manner. Apparently there had not yet been any food distribution, although they people had been there for about a month. There was an informal market set up on the ground near the entrance to the camp. The camp president told me that people were hungry, but also his other concern was that they could not work and thus had no income to buy units for their mobile phones - a sign of changing times and expectations!

There isn't very much for children to do. Aid agencies are setting up emergency schooling programs for those who would normally be in school. Other programs are gradually being set up to provide recreational facilities (soccer balls, various toys for different ages, trained workers, tracing agencies for lost children, etc.) and games for children.

Some children have never seen a camera before, whilst others love to ham it up in front of the lens.

I went to the camp with a group of trainees who were there to practice their games with the children. These are special games designed to encourage children to feel more self-confident, to have trust in each other, to cooperate with each other, to accept each other, to be creative, and generally to have a good time and enjoy themselves, relieving some of the stress of being displaced from their usual homes. It was great to see the kids running around laughing and dancing, and also to see mothers passing by with loads of fire-wood or water on their heads, smiling to see the kids happy. Seeing happy kids can be quite a rare event around here.

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