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HEAL Africa provides holistic care for the people of Democratic Republic of Congo
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February 2008 Update from Goma

A peace agreement was signed a week ago, yet new conflicts are breaking out and people continue to flee to refugee camps. Judy Anderson, Executive Director of the US fundraising office for HEAL Africa, writes from Goma to describe the current situation.

"We really thank you for your prayers. We are thankful for the peace agreement, but realize it’s a long way to peace. New conflicts are breaking out and people continue to flee to refugee camps. Our teams continue to go back and forth, some have been kidnapped for hours, then released, others asked to treat patients in some of the militias, then released. So we thank God for the safety He has provided, in the midst of the 'lion’s den'.

I went to two refugee camps yesterday of internally displaced people. About 4,800 families under tarps at one, 3,500 people in another. It was raining and cold part of the time I was walking around the camp. A church group was issuing nonfood items, blankets, cooking pots, water containers. They get a tarp, then have to go to the nearest forest to cut strips of wood to make a curved roof: picture a covered wagon without the wagon. It’s just that curved shape as shelter. The Kibumba camp is relatively lucky; they’re on dirt, so they can put a tarp on the floor, and over the top, and pile up dirt around the base so it’s relatively water and airtight. Of course there’s no door. Some had banana leaves on the front, others a strip of cloth. Nothing very stable or thief- proof.

We looked into one 'house'. The far end (about 6' x 10') was where they slept. There were no suitcases. Nothing but what they’re wearing, so when no one’s inside there’s nothing there. They are issued some food, but no fuel. This camp is bordered by the National Virunga Park —that’s where they go to find firewood. We were at dinner with someone from the World Wildlife Fund, who is trying to get reforestation started to provide firewood. Otherwise people are cutting all the wood down and the forests will be finished! That’s the habitat for the gorillas featured on Newsweek’s cover a few months ago.

We spoke to Joseph C. this morning, who is the leader of the Heal My People team in North Kivu. His car was caught in a firefight between different rebel groups. They saw many people fleeing from an area that people had recently returned to. Joseph said, “I picked up a woman and her children. One was about 6 years old and had been in school. She said, 'We were at class. We heard the guns. The director of the school told everyone to get down on the floor. We all lay on the floor. Some were shot dead, there were bodies on the floor.’ "

Joseph said, “That child will never forget this experience. These children know that when you hear guns you must lie down on the floor, quickly. One day she will ask her mother, 'Who did this?' And the child will learn to associate the murders of friends to the group who shot the guns." He says, “We see the tanks that MONUC has, the helicopters that fly overhead, and yet if people are crying for help, they can’t stop and help them….they came here for peace, but they can’t risk their own lives. The international humanitarian organisations are often told it’s too dangerous. Who will go if we don’t go?”

That’s the strength of HEAL Africa. It is Congolese vision and leadership. They speak the language and understand the culture. Its programs keep going during this traumatic time because it’s community-based.

What’s the “take” on the ground? It’s hard for the Congolese people to see the many organizations with seemingly unlimited resources to provide tarps, blankets, food and non-food items, etc. (they have been doing so for years in this area). It’s a good thing, when you realize that people flee without a thing, and lose what they leave behind—whether to the looting military or to the acts of nature like the lava flow in 2002. But it is temporary.

The peace agreement between Congolese was signed a week ago, and with it an agreement to enforce the Nairobi accords, which means dealing with the Interahamwe and FDLR-remnant armies of the Rwandan regime in 1994’s genocide. Yet there doesn’t seem to be the international will to force the warlords to the table. There have to be better alternatives, don’t you think?

When will the guns be transformed into ploughshares?

We thank you for your help and continued prayers. It’s a huge encouragement to everyone here."

Goma, February 1st 2008