Sunday, 18 March 2012

Poo in Tongo

Two hours drive North of Goma is a village called Tongo. Tongo is situated along the Virunga National Park, where currently there is an active volcano. Most people in this area don’t have latrines or access to clean running water and proper health facilities. Tongo is one of the field sites I travel regularly to. I wanted to share a case study I have written for Tearfund and the work we have been doing within this community. I am inspired by this community, who has been devastated by the conflict, but yet are motivated to spend what little they have from their harvest (often less than $7) on construction and materials to build their own latrines. The communities themselves are the true sanitation heroes in DRC.

Community-Led Sanitation Initiatives Bring Change to DR Congo
Sanitation and public health in Democratic Republic of Congo is in a precarious position. While peace was officially declared in 2002 in DRC, conflict between various armed groups and atrocities against civilians, especially women, continues. Some parts of the Congolese military (FARDC), as well as rebel fighters , remain a security concern in eastern and north-eastern DRC. These armed groups - located especially in North Kivu and South Kivu are known to violate and loot communities in the region. Communities in these regions continue to live in the midst of instability and uncertainty as they attempt to rebuild their lives after the war, and maintain healthy communities.

Thus, the effects of the conflict can still be felt as few people have access to basic services, particularly water and sanitation, which poses serious health threats such as the spread of water-borne and sanitation related diseases. According to the Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) for DRC 2011, a majority of Congolese people do not live to see their 50th birthday. In fact the second greatest cause of mortality in DRC is diarrhoea, which could be reduced significantly with better access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene services. As the state has failed to provide sustainable services, conditions in DRC are ripe for community driven sanitation solutions.

Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), an approach which empowers local communities to take sanitation solutions into their own hands and build their own latrines using local materials, is being pioneered by Tearfund in this complex emergency in eastern DRC. In 2010, Tearfund’s Disaster Management Team (DMT) piloted CLTS in 6 villages in Pangi & Kailo, an area in Maniema Province. This produced very positive results in which people started to build their own latrines that very afternoon after CLTS trainings helped them to realise that, as a result of practising open defecation in their communities, they’d basically been eating their own and other people’s poo. A number of village women instantly called their husbands back from town to get them to help dig the latrine pits. Since this time many communities are welcoming CLTS in Maniema and across eastern DRC, as they spread sanitation messages and transform their villages into those that are now open defecation free.

Case Study: Village of Tshoko, Tongo, North Kivu Province, D.R. Congo ( 1,128 population/ 188 households)
In Tshoko, a squatter community in, Tongo, most people have never used a latrine and many do not even own the land upon which their homes are built. As Tongo is bordering Virunga National Park, a chronically insecure area with constant rebel movement, many people have been reluctant to build any costly infrastructure in addition to their homes, for fear of having to flee into the bush at any given time, leaving their assets behind them. As people haven’t used money to build community or family latrines, the community had developed the habit of using the fields nearby as a place to openly defecate. Only a handful of households actually had their own latrine prior the CLTS training period.

Scarcity of building resources is a common problem in the operating areas in complex emergencies. In Tshoko, gaining access to construction materials such as wood, poles, bamboo and corrugated iron sheeting is very difficult as the FDLR and other armed militias control a majority of these materials found in the nearby forest, and it is dangerous for community members to travel in the forested areas. Community members are often subject to looting and ambushing of their property and materials. Most inhabitants fear going out to the forest and collecting materials and are not able to afford buying the materials from militia groups if they do venture out. This community also do not have access to the tools they needed in order to dig simple pit latrines. Population displacement in Tshoko as a result of the conflict is the reason why most community members have lost essential household items such as seeds, tools, household utensils and assets.

A small tool subsidy proved to encourage the process of CLTS triggering, and in many cases sped the process up as people were motivated to put their names on the waiting list for tool usage. Most people in the community when asked only could afford to spend $6 or less on the materials for the latrine. Community members reported they would have not been able to start work on their own latrines without the small tool subsidy. Conflict -induced resource shortages and potential stresses on the environment and should be taken in considering when planning for CLTS triggering in emergencies.

Yet the use of subsidies must be limited if not avoided in communities where CLTS triggering is happening. In the past, emergency donations from well-intentioned NGOs, such as latrine slabs were given to this particular community without the critical component of health promotion / education. This yielded ineffective and unsustainable results. When walking through the village, one could even see the unused latrine slabs, lying on the ground with grass and weeds growing over them.

After the CLTS training, it was as if the entire community experienced a hygienic epiphany. Community members began to realise they could not healthy lives without building latrines. The community became excited to use the old, unused slabs previously given by other NGOs to build their new latrines. Community members even began to walk long distances to find materials in areas that weren’t controlled by militias as they wanted their community to be healthy for their families to live in, with hopes of eliminating the problem of open defecation in the nearby fields.

Mrs. Nyirakazimana, resident of Tshoko,Tongo

Interview with Mrs. Nyirakazimana, resident of Tshoko

Family situation / size: 9 people in the house (7 children and 2 parents)
Work/occupation: Farmer

‘We live on a plot that does not belong to us. As the plot belongs to the plantation we work every day in the proprietor’s fields to pay our rent. Until Tearfund’s CLTS training here, we did not understand the importance of building a latrine. I can say that, my family, our neighbours and our community, we all lived amidst the stool and dirt, but we didn’t understand how it was affecting us.

To this day, all of my children know that each time they use the toilet, they must cover the latrine hole and leave it clean. I find that since me and my neighbour have built latrines after Tearfund’s help, our children are sick much less than before. Tearfund’s CLTS intervention has really helped with regards to our children’s health. My husband and I make sure that our latrine is clean, from the interior to the exterior. We are proud of our latrine.

Tearfund’s project helped me to discover that the family latrine is extremely important. My family continues to use all the information on hygiene that we received from Tearfund. Practically speaking, my children are healthier now than they’ve ever been. My husband provided 4500 Congolese Francs ($5) to buy the wood that we used to build our latrine platform. We had to be careful where we got the wood from because of the militia groups. Though this may seem like a lot of money (and it is), it is an insignificant amount when I compare it to what we used to pay the clinic when our children would become sick. In this way, we’ve been able to save a little bit more money every month.

With the arrival of Tearfund we have benefited from training and awareness of hygiene issues. A number of months ago, I built my toilet and ever since Tearfund’s training I’ve poured ash inside the toilet hole to reduce odours. Before, the fields were so smelly because we used them openly as our toilet. But now, with new latrines and the use of ash, there are no more smells. I have also know thanks to Tearfund now that I should cover the hole so as to reduce the flies inside the latrine. All of my children wash their hands after using the toilet. Our needs are many, but in priority I believe that clean water is very important for us. Another need is knowledge. My community and our neighbours need to be sensitised more and more so that we’ll grown in our knowledge and understanding of the importance of family latrines.’

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Congo Gorillas

Can't believe we caught this on video! Gorillas aren't really mother nature's most graceful animals. Enjoy.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Giving Thanks....

In the spirit of Thanksgiving… Here are the Top 10 things we our giving thanks for in DRC:

1.Care packages and cards from home (from the world’s best friends and family…thank you Mamma Miller and Mamma Cato for our most recent packages!)

2. Congolese turkeys (the biggest meat we have ever seen in the Congo)

3. Peaceful and fair elections in DRC (hoping)…

Okay yes, the odds are against us on this one, but it does not stop us from hoping. This upcoming Monday, November 28th Congo will hold its second democratic election since the end in 2002 of the war (one of Africa’s longest wars) that left over 5 million people dead. The UDPS is leading opposition group with as the candidate for the presidency, Etienne Tshisekedi (who recently stirred controversy declaring himself the new president of Congo and asking people to break into the prisons and set free his supporters who have been jailed) against the current president/ ruling party of Joseph Kabila. Numerous human rights violations have happened during this election time here…including some levels violence (stone throwings, kidnappings and shootings), intimidation, arrests and deaths during campaigning while some opposition radio stations have been shut down and opposition gatherings banned in parts of the country. Even the current president booked up all the seats onboard National Congolese flights so none of the opposition parties could use the flights. Not to mention the head of the electoral commission is a friend of the current president. Also, it is a logistical nightmare trying to get the ballots out in this vast land populated by 72 million people and the size of adistance between London and Moscow with hardly any road infrastructure. Delays for this upcoming election seem likely. Don’t worry we do have an good evacuation plan in place ;)

4. Clean water and African food

5. Gorillas (and other nifty creatures of the Congo)!!!

Silverback gorillas (lowland)

6. Bukavu- Our hometown...Africa’s most beautiful up and coming town- Our 'little Switzerland'

7. Friendships abroad

At our favorite restaurant in Bukavu (Orchid)

8. Generosity of the Congolese people

An amazing community near Baraka, DRC doing a Gender training

9. Committed Expats that have been here for 25 years carrying on conservation works in the National Parks. The Kahuzi Biega National Park is now an endangered UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to their work with the government and Pygmies(who are the locals of the area that use to poach the gorillas before they were protected but now our their greatest protectors and guides to the park).

10. Stunning Geography-The world’s mysterious and least studied volcanoes (The recent eruption that started a few weeks ago... impact-no one was injured in our project sites or communities close to the Nyamuragira volcano in Virunga National Park) Click here for visual

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Cape Town South Africa - Part II

Vineyard SunsetFranschhoek VineyardsVineyard SunsetLaborie Vineyard, PaarlLaborie Vineyard, PaarlFairview Vineyard, Paarl
Fairview Vineyard, PaarlFairview Vineyard, PaarlCafe des Artes, FranschhoekCafe des Artes, FranschhoekColdplay Pre-showKirstenbosch Gardens OWL
Kirstenbosch GardensKirstenbosch Gardens OWL IIKirstenbosch GardensIan as a PrimateOur Franschhoek CottageBoschendaal
BoschendaalBoschendaalBoschendaal Winery Our CottageWinery?Crazy Food- Ryan's Kitchen, Franschhoek

Well there were too many good pics to share from the trip so we finally uploaded them on flickr.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Cape Town Part I

Forgive us.... we have been off the map for most of this month on a holiday in South Africa! There's a story as to why it took us almost 5 months to have our first break from the DRC, but we'll post that at a later date. When we DID receive Monica's passport, we still only barely made it out of DRC in time for our flight. Apparently Kinshasa makes it a priority to hold passports hostage for many long, unnecessary months and for some, even years. No joke... (but this is a story in itself perhaps to be told when it wears off a bit). Just now we're trying to file down the chips on our shoulders. We're still recovering from jet lag (mainly just all day flights yesterday) not to mention copious amounts of fermented grape juice, suckling pig and local catches of the day, we will just post some photos at this point. Photos do tell stories right? Enjoy a taste of stunning South Africa.... View from our flat in Cape Town first night and morning
First date in South Africa
Cape Point, Tip of Africa
Chapman's Peak Drive

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Attention!!! (or, be careful what you eat).

It was the close of what had been a very long week and Monica was still in Kenya for a conference she had been invited to. It was just me and our former programme director. Probably more out of pity then anything else, I was invited over to a friends’ house for a nice, low key Friday night meal, and perhaps the promise of some popcorn and a movie projected onto the living room wall afterwards. This house is one of the largest and most beautiful that I’ve seen in Bukavu, though it’s too large and too new to be a Belgian maisonette. The house is being rented by some friends who work with another NGO and it has the most amazing views from the back terrace onto Lake Kivu, and a nice little path that leads onto a small lake dock.

I arrived at the friend’s house a little late, and was welcomed into the kitchen where, on the counter tops was the most amazing and eclectic spread of food – sausage links, hotdog buns, pommes frites (French fries, even though they were invented by the Belgians – indisputable FACT!), potatoes chips, some drinks, and what looked to be a steel pot of cold rice mixed with some sort of minced meat. This last bit, the cold rice meat mix, was bland, congealed and a little gross, but out of sheer niceness, I wasn’t terribly opposed to consuming it. Because of Monica’s weeklong absence and my lack of even basic cooking knowledge (though some might disagree), I had survived all week off of bowls of cereal, burnt toast, old pasta and fizzy drinks, so I was happy to have something a little different. With the careful supervision of the host, I loaded up my plate with everything aforementioned, and even went back for seconds. We had good conversation in the living room, and because the city electricity went down half-way through my meal and the house generator was broken down, we chatted and joked by candle light. It was a good night, even though the popcorn and movie didn’t quite pan out.

My problems didn’t start until the next day, around mid-morning. There are multiple names for it, and I won’t disgust you with the details, but my favourite is ‘Montezuma’s revenge.’ You might have guessed it, the dreaded and constant companion of the mazungu (white person) abroad – diarrhoea. And for me, this was not just any bout of stomach gurgles and anxious darts to the bathroom. This was serious – or at least it was for me.

Early Saturday morning I walked to the office to download emails and to try to get some work done. In less than an hour, after my 4th visit to the restroom, I was walking like I had a limp in both legs, and then by hour 2 I might as well have been crawling around on the floor. I HAD to lie down, but I couldn’t walk home. I borrowed the car keys and drove myself home; practically leaning into the driver’s side door to avoid actually sitting on my backside. I can’t even begin to describe the stinging pain – though perhaps the sensation was a little like substituting a chilli pepper for a suppository. I sped home and threw myself into bed for 8 hours, lying on my stomach. I missed out on a friend’s going away party and basically watched rubbish American movies dubbed in French…without sub-titles. Blah.

As soon as I received word that Monica had arrived back in DRC (though she was still 11 hours away by car), I called her on her mobile phone and told her I thought I was dying of cholera. She is the public health promotion advisor for Tearfund after all. It turned out that she would have to spend the night in the bush, finishing the evening (as one does) by killing a snake in her bathroom with a jerry can full of water. Needless to say, it wasn’t an ideal situation – she had to spend a sleepless night in a sweltering bedroom fearful of the mama snake’s reprisals, whereas I spent the night nursing myself back to health.

Lets fast forward 2 weeks, shall we. At this point, though I’m still suffering from acidic stomach juice, but at least I can walk. I was once again invited for dinner at the same house, this time along with Monica, and we had an absolutely fantastic time. It started with some tea and crackers and would progress into a full-blown meal of, oh I forgot, because really the point of the gory details above is to describe what follows. While helping our host prepare tea, etc. in the kitchen, I saw him extract a steel pot from the refrigerator and place it on the countertop where the rest of the food was being prepared. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him take the lid off of the steel pot, and, gripping the spoon that had been left inside since the last serving; he proceeded to serve this cold rice and minced meat mix into the cat bowl on the ground. When our host noticed my horror, he looked up at me – our eyes met, and we both knew what had happened 2 weeks before.

So, though I would eventually be bedridden for 3 days with Malaria a little more than a month later – between the two incidents, I would imagine that I’ve got superhuman immunity. Some people believe that it’s good for children to grow up on a farm, playing with strange animals and shovelling horse dung – these are the building blocks of healthy children, so we’re told. So you’re reading this from a studio apartment in some big city or from the comfort of a suburban American neighbourhood, you may not have the luxury of wide-open spaces for your children to chase flocks of dingy pigeons, or the chance to get ring worm from the neighbourhood climbing tree. Just take it from me – send your kid to the Congo for a year, (or in the case of the homemade cat food, pay a visit to your local, well-meaning NGO), and if it doesn’t kill him/her, they’ll come back a little different. Perhaps not better or stronger, but they’ll certainly have some stories to share. To digress just a bit, WHO puts a pot of cat food right beside the rest of the meal at dinner time! I mean, come on!!! Thus, I would imagine that the moral of this story in particular, is this: Attention!!! Be careful of what you eat…

This is the actual cat food I ate...yum...

Sunday, 21 August 2011


Recently, we took a field visit outside of Goma DRC for what turned out to be two of the most impacting days in the Congo to date with a Tearfund partner called ‘Heal Africa’. Heal Africa is a local non-profit organisation that focusing on addressing the needs of women who have experienced sexual violence and physical, emotional and spiritual healing is at the heart of their programming. Rape is one of the greatest social disasters. Though there are always controversies around figures and samples, according to the American Journal of Public Health, a study published earlier this year suggests that 48 women in DRC are raped every hour.

The first days of the visit we were given a tour of the entire Heal Africa operation and facility as well as an induction to Heal Africa mission, objectives, and purposes. We were given the induction by the current Program manager of Heal Africa, Dr. Likofata and some the HIV staff and assistant project staff. We met the medical staff, HIV program staff, counseling staff, arts and livelihoods program staff, justice/law advocacy staff and pharmacy staff.

Literally everyone we met, though particularly the female doctors, nurses and lawyers, were some of the most inspiring individuals we’ve ever come across. The way they held themselves, presented their work, the way they spoke and the passion that they approached their daily tasks, just floored us. If it is possible to actually see the driving force of another human being, the bits and the bobs that really make someone tick, I would have imagined that we would have seen a fire in the eyes of those we met that day. Not an seething, all consuming bonfire, but rather a welcoming and constantly burning flame – one you would want to spend most of your time sitting beside for comfort, just to watch and be warmed.

The second day of our visit we visited several field locations, where we met the women and staff of two different current Heal Africa safe houses. The safe houses are where most women first go to after they have been raped, especially if they don’t have physical access to the Heal Africa hospital immediately after they have been assaulted.

These houses provide shelter, medical help (referrals to the Heal Africa hospital), psycho-social counseling, livelihoods programs, language classes, justice/law counsel and a strong church network. At the centre of these safe houses are groups called ‘Nehemiah Committees’, which are male and female village leaders who represent different local faith groups who help to find local solutions within to sexual violence. They also have a Heal my People program, which focuses on issues of gender and justice and the root causes of sexual violence within the Congo.

One Heal Africa supported safe house we visited, provides shelter and a sense of community for women who have had over 6 fistula repair and other more intensive surgeries after being severely sexually assaulted during the war – many of whom have been told that their conditions are unfixable – despite all the excruciating operations they’ve endured. Earlier the previous day, during our tour of the Heal Africa hospital, we had been afraid to ask the question of where women go if they are unable to be physically restored by surgery. It was then, at the shelter in the black lava speckled rolling hills outside of Goma, that we found our answer.

In this type of safe house the women are building and living in community while participating in income generating activities such as bread and soap making, farming or animal husbandry. The strength in these womens’ eyes, and the joy with which they spoke made us forget the histories that they shared with us – things that we may never be able to repeat. These women were joyful and happy to receive visitors. After we introduced ourselves they began singing and dancing. One woman told us a Congolese proverb that we’ve heard many times since arriving, but at no other time have we felt so happy to hear it spoken – ‘a place is blessed when visitors are present’.

When one of our colleagues asked if it was possible to have a picture of us together with these women, we were cringing at what their answers might be. We had been given a place of honor, to enter the lives of women who had suffered the most severe forms of violence, to sit among them, look into their eyes and hear them share their stories. We felt that we had been given too much already, and could not imagine any one of them actually wanting to have their photo taken. Perhaps we underestimated their dignity, because they jumped at the opportunity. Their smiles still remind us of that all too elusive hope for this country, and specifically for the women of the DRC. There is hope here, among these courageous women and despite the terror of the night, there is reason to search for joy in the morning.

Healing Arts and Livelihoods Program

Dancing with the women at the Safe House

Staff at the Safe House

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