A fresh start through multipurpose community centers

Women benefiting from the multipurpose Community Centers
Women benefiting from the multipurpose Community Centers. Credit: Gwenn Dubourthoumieu, UNDP 2011.

Mangina (North –Kivu) – Conflicts between armed groups have been raging in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1990. The humanitarian and security situation there is very alarming with attacks against the civilian population, acts of sexual violence and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

In order to assist and meet the needs of those rendered vulnerable by these repeated clashes, the UNDP set up 12 multipurpose community centers in North and South Kivu.

Key data

  • 12 multipurpose community centers supported by the United Nations Development Programme, opened in the 2 provinces of Kivu.
  • 4,500 people benefited from economic rehabilitation.
  • 2,000 people participated in cooperative credit unions.

One such beneficiary is 34 year old widow, Maman Miriam. In 2004, three armed men raped her and cut off her genitals leaving her physically and psychologically scarred. She was abandoned by all and was incapable of taking care of her 3 children.

When she came to the local multipurpose community center in 2010, the staff gave her psychosocial assistance (do you mean counselling?). The different course activities offered by the multicultural community center enabled her to achieve financial freedom.

Moreover, she acquired skills to make it possible for her to earn a living such as managing small amounts of money, reading basic information which enabled her to express her opinion and acquire competence in terms of leadership. Two years later, Miriam left the refugee camp where she had stayed since her trauma and moved to a small neighbouring town. By combining her skills in dressmaking and the sale of local traditional drinks, she is now able to pay for her rent.

A New Life

“I see things gradually changing around me”, she says with pride. “The children are healthy, they are clean and they attend school”. I am saving money to buy myself a plot of land”.
She has new colleagues andhas made friends-- a real community which restores her strength.

Inspired by similar initiatives existing in the Beni territory (North-Kivu), the UNDP proposed this innovative response to the violence in 2010, to foster socio-economic reintegration of vulnerable people.

The centers are managed by the community and they offer a wide range of services such as mediation, literacy classes, information on job openings and women’s leadership.

They also offer trainings in more than 12 occupations such as sewing, basket making, cattle breeding, baking and even commercial gardening. Furthermore, there are meeting rooms where citizens, leaders of thought(I’m not sure what you mean by “leaders of thought” and local leaders can discuss health and development plans which include HIV prevention and protection campaigns.

The 12 multipurpose cultural centers supported by the UNDP which were opened in the 2 provinces of Kivu in the last 2 years, made it possible for more than 4,500 people to be reintegrated into local economic life. After informative and educational sessions, more than 2,000 joined mutual solidarity funds where they learned how to save money and benefit from micro-credits, a collective approach which allows them to become financially independent.

“I could not imagine that women as deprived as us could save money “, marvelled Sylvie Lubaki, who frequents the Multipurpose cultural center at Uvira-South Kivu. In the past, I only thought about the present but with what I earn now, I can make plans for the future.

This project also allowed the massive participation of women from Burusi (North-Kivu) at the presidential and legislative elections in 2011. The majority of them had just learnt how to read and write at the local multipurpose cultural centers.

This particular approach, developed around the multipurpose community centers, offers the rural women and youth, who were victims of violence during the decade of fighting, the opportunity to make their voices heard within their community and take charge of their future.

The Congolese authorities recently expressed their interest in multipurpose cultural centers from the UNDP. They integrated them into the national strategy based on the model and the developments in both provinces of Kivu. The establishments will soon be accorded legal status from the community management with the support of public authorities.

The current budget for all the centers is US$1.6 million, with the bulk of the funds being provided for by the UNDP.

“I felt worthless” confides Maman Miriam. “I cried, having to watch my children dying of hunger. I did not have any money and my health was deteriorating. Today I can live again. I am proud of myself and I can affirm my independence, take decisions and act,” she acknowledges with a big smile.

*The beneficiaries were all victims of sexual violence and have asked that their real names not be published.

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