Church in Congo helps thousands of displaced families

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Key points:

  • Thanks to a $250,000 grant from UMCOR and the United Methodist Global Ministries’ Global Health unit, more than 15,000 displaced people in eastern Congo benefited from food, hygiene kits and other essential support.
  • Recipients included women, children and older adults.
  • Conflict has led to the displacement of millions of people who live in camps set up in Goma.

More than 15,000 displaced people from some 3,000 households received food, hygiene kits and other essential support from The United Methodist Church.

The gifts were made possible by a $250,000 grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief and United Methodist Global Ministries’ Global Health program.

The distribution operation was launched by Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, Eastern Congo Episcopal Area, during sessions of the Kivu Annual Conference.

Jean Tshomba, coordinator of the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s disaster management office in eastern Congo, reported that UMCOR funds had enabled the purchase of 75 tons each of rice and flour, 12.5 tons each of beans and vegetable oil, 2.5 tons each of table salt and sugar, as well as other items.

According to Cudins Lokale Senga, deputy coordinator of finance for the disaster management office, each household received rice and maize flour, beans and sugar, a gallon of vegetable oil, cooking salt, two bars of soap, a basin, a bucket, brooms, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other basic necessities. The goods were distributed in July.

Since March 2022, renewed fighting between the DRC Armed Forces and the M23 in Rutshuru territory has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in North and South Kivu, severely straining humanitarian capacities in the areas hosting the displaced. Some 2,000 households received help from the church earlier this year.

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The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that internally displaced persons face risks of disease and lack of protection due to inadequate access to shelter and other forms of emergency assistance. On the outskirts of Goma, for example, many people left their villages as conflict escalated in October 2022.

“Some 600,000 displaced people are living in extremely precarious conditions,” said Tshomba. “They face inadequate access to food, water and hygiene facilities, which exposes women to sexual violence.”

Humanitarian-aid organizations also reported very restricted access to M23-controlled areas of North Kivu, where basic services and food are likely to be limited.

Alfred Kimenya oversees the camp for displaced people at the Don Bosco site in Goma.

“The act of The United Methodist Church in favor of the war-displaced people of Rutshuru and Masisi,” he said, “is not the first, even though there are several religious denominations in the DRC. I congratulate the team that has started to register the displaced people on this site because they didn’t take into account religious or tribal criteria. On the contrary, they took into account vulnerability criteria, cases of malnutrition in households and age.”

In addition to providing food, the church also has addressed poor hygienic conditions in the camps.

“Support from Global Health,” Kimenya said, “has enabled us to raise awareness and provide more than 5,000 women with hygiene kits to combat infection in sites where more than 100 households share the same toilet and where women are most exposed to infection.”

Dr. Damas Lushima, health coordinator for the East Congo Episcopal Area, said the intervention is needed.

“UMCOR and Global Health have seen fit to help women living in displaced persons’ sites by providing them with hygiene kits that enable them to take care of themselves, particularly during menstruation. We sensitized the population to the use of long-term hygiene kits before proceeding with distribution.”

The emphasis on hygiene sensitization was one of the highlights of the intervention, said Bintou Diao, program manager for UMCOR’s International Disaster Response program.

“The health board team has facilitated the introduction of a more sustainable solution with the provision of reusable sanitary pads, which requires menstrual hygiene management education. … Through collaborative responses with Global Health, we aim for a more holistic approach in providing relief to displaced people,” Diao said. 

Maman Victorine Mwanvua, a 32-year-old mother of two, lives in the Kanyarushinya camp in Goma. “It’s the first time I’ve seen a church that cares so much about people all the time,” she said. “I’m not a United Methodist, but I’ve just received food and hygiene kits. I’m delighted with the help of the church.”

While the distribution operation was underway, a group of Kalehe flood survivors arrived to meet the bishop in person. They asked him to continue advocating on their behalf.

In May, two rivers overflowed following torrential rains, killing more than 400 people in the area. One church family lost 13 members.

Hervé Cibuga, a young United Methodist who lost his parents, told Unda that the living conditions that flood survivors continue to endure are unacceptable.

“Despite the Congolese government’s decision to relocate the site,” Cibuga said, “we continue to spend the night in schools and churches in neighboring villages for lack of houses. We also lack enough food to eat properly, and our children are beginning to develop signs of malnutrition.”

The bishop vowed to do everything he could to assist the survivors. “When this disaster happened,” he said, “I was in the United States for the Council of Bishops (meeting), and I tried to show your situation to certain partners.”

In August, a fire ravaged the camp for flood victims in Kalehe. Seven people were killed, and over 400 makeshift shelters were reduced to ashes, leaving displaced people homeless.

On Sept. 12, UMCOR released a $10,000 emergency grant in solidarity with the East Congo Episcopal Area to address urgent food needs for people affected by the fire, while damage and needs assessments are being conducted. 

“Only God will bless this church for the work it is doing for people who have lost hope of living,” Kimenya said.

Kituka Lolonga is a communicator at the Kivu Conference. Judith Osongo Yanga, communications director in Eastern Congo, and Jolie Shabani Mulebinge, communicator for the women of Kivu, contributed to this story.

News media contact: Julie Dwyer at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more news from The United Methodist Church, subscribe to our free daily or weekly Digests.


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