Recovering thanks to Multi-purpose Community CentresSep 10, 2013
Mangina, province of North Kivu (Nord-Kivu) - Conflicts between armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been raging since the late 1990s. The humanitarian and security situation in the area is extremely worrying. Attacks against the civilian population occur, as well as sexual violence and the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers.
In order to provide support to those who have been affected by these recurring conflicts and to respond to their needs, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has established 12 Multi-purpose Community Centres (CCPs) in the provinces of North and South Kivu (Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu).
Maman Miriam*, a 34-year-old widow, is one of those whom this has benefited. In 2004 three armed men raped her and mutilated her genitals, causing her severe and lasting physical and psychological damage. She felt that she had been completely abandoned by everyone else and felt unable to take care of her three children.
The first time that she came to the local CCP, in 2010, staff provided psychosocial support. Different activity programmes in the CCPs have given these women the chance to achieve financial autonomy together.
In addition, she acquired skills that allow her to earn a living and to make her way through life such as managing small sums of money as well as reading basic information to allow her to form her own opinions and acquiring leadership skills.
Two years on and Maman Miriam has left the displaced persons camp where she had been living since the attack and has moved to a small town nearby. She is able to pay her rent by combining her talents as a seamstress and selling traditional local drinks.
A new life
"I'm gradually seeing things around me changing," she says proudly. "My children are healthy and clean and go to school. I'm saving money to buy myself a plot of land." She has new colleagues and has made friends - they are a real community that gives her strength.
UNDP took the lead from similar initiatives in the Beni area (North Kivu) and suggested this novel response to the violence that took place in 2010 in order to allow vulnerable people to re-enter society, both economically and socially.
The centres are managed by the community and provide a whole range of services such as mediation, literacy classes and information regarding job opportunities and female leadership.
They also offer classes on around twelve trades such as sewing, basket-making, raising animals, cultivating crops and baking. In addition, these centres are meeting places where citizens, opinion leaders and local leaders are able to discuss health and development plans such as campaigns to protect people from and prevent HIV.
The 12 CCPs supported by UNDP that have opened their doors in North and South Kivu over the past two years have allowed more than 4,500 people to re-enter local economic life. After attending informational and educational sessions, over 2,000 of these people became members of a solidarity fund where they learned how to save money and can benefit from micro-loans, a collective approach that allows them to become financially independent.
Sylvie Lubaki* visited the CCP in Uvira (South Kivu). "I didn't think that women as dispossessed as us could save money," she says with astonishment. "I used to think only about the present, but I know now that I can make plans for the future with the money that I earn today."
The project also made it possible for a large number of women in Burusi (North Kivu) to participate in the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections. Most of these women had recently learned to read and write in the local CCP.
This individual approach, centred on the Multi-purpose Community Centres, offers women and young people from isolated rural areas who for decades have been subject to violence the chance to make their voices heard in their families and communities and to take charge of their own future.
The Congolese authorities recently signalled their interest in the CCPs set up by UNDP. The authorities incorporated the CCPs into their national strategy on sex and development in North and South Kivu. These centres will soon be granted a legal status that takes into account their community management, while also allowing them to receive government support.
The budget for all the centres is currently 1.6 million United States dollars, of which the majority is provided by UNDP.
"I used to feel useless," Maman Miriam confides. "I used to cry because I was watching my children starve to death. I didn't have any money and I was terribly unhealthy. Now I'm alive again. I'm proud of myself and I know that I can be independent, make decisions and take action," she says, smiling broadly.
4,500 people have been able to re-enter economic life
2,000 people are participating in credit unions
*All the beneficiaries are victims of sexual violence and have requested that their real names not be used.