life goes on
Before leaving, we visited Furaha Bembe, President of the Buhanga farmers’ collective that is also part of UPDI. She looks after her family through the production of a variety of crops, and also provides leadership to the hundreds of UPDI members in the surrounding villages. Furaha explains how loans from UPDI have helped farmers to buy inputs and that this, along with the farming advice, has helped improve the production. One of the important benefits, she argues, is the improvement of women’s health in the village, as they now have access to a wide variety of fresh vegetables and staple foods. We also benefited, leaving her home with a gift of sweet potatoes.In my experience, there's a very common misconception that poor people in conflict zones sit around waiting for someone to come and help them. This view suggests that little can be done without the international community's assistance.
Despite the wars and continued instability in the DRC (the last militia raid in the village of Ludaha was a month ago), these farmers, through their own organisation and with a little assistance, are steadily improving their lives. They are hungry for new ideas and new crops. Their hard work deserves better returns and this will require more accessible and affordable inputs as well as much better access to markets. UPDI and the national and regional farmer organisations they are part of, which Oxfam also works closely with, are vehicles through which these farmers in a corner of DRC are taking up these challenges.
But that's rarely how it actually works in places like Ludaha. Congolese communities consistently and almost uniformly create innovative solutions to their problems. The other day, I met a woman who's associated with a nearby organization created to help children who are victims of war. The leader, without any outside assistance, developed a plan to place two groups - teenage girls who conceived children as a result of rape and former child combatants - in homes with families in the community. She created a foster care program that has successfully placed 100 children (plus the girls' babies) in homes in the community, keeping those children off the streets and giving them a chance.
Could they use some support? Heck, yeah. The community is extremely poor, and the families can't really afford the burden of the extra children. They're working on creating income-generating activities, and I have a feeling the organization could benefit from some outside expertise and financial support.
But that doesn't mean good hasn't been done without it. Nor does it mean that the work will cease, even as more victims need homes and more families struggle to provide a place.