Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)

Ned Meerdink (Sos Femmes en Danger – SOSFED): Ned earned his Bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied humanitarian work in Central and Eastern Africa. After graduation, NED worked for human rights NGOs in the US and Congo. They included Mutuelle Jeunesse Active (MJA) in Sud Kivu. AP deployed Ned to Uvira, in South Kivu, in September 2008 to work with civil society organizations including Tunza Mazingira, Arche d’Alliance, and SOS Femmes en Danger. Ned launched the partnership between SOSFED and AP in 2009.

South Kivu Travel Agency

27 Jul

This evening, I returned home from my most recent series of planning meetings with AP’s DRC partner, SOS Femmes en Danger (SOS FED). This time, our meetings were logistical in nature, as we are currently organizing a large meeting/training session/organizational update for the SOS FED staff and have to figure out how exactly to get the staff from each SOS FED reception center to Mboko village in South Kivu to rendez-vous. SOS FED currently has 3 reception centers for survivors of sexual violence in South Kivu spread throughout the province in the villages of Mboko, Kikonde, and Kazimia.

300 kilometers of no roads and questionable security conditions through numerous rebel-held villages separate Center Kazimia, the southernmost from the SOS FED installation, from the northernmost Center Mboko. The SOS FED village field workers are preparing to arrive by a confusing combination of motorcycles, boats, and transport lorries normally reserved for corn and manioc in order to get to our meeting on the 2nd of August to speak face-to-face and truly begin putting the ‘Combating Sexual Violence in Eastern Congo’ campaign into action.

So, next time you are considering the horrible inconvenience of your two hour layover in Indianapolis or even your ten hour wait in Addis Ababa en route to somewhere else, consider the following itinerary for our SOS FED representative working in Kazimia, South Kivu:

1. Take the dugout pirogue from Kazimia towards Yungu. Estimated time of travel is anywhere between 5 hours and 2 days, depending on the load of fish being ferried and the availability of gas in Kazimia to power an unpredictable outboard motor. The captain of the ship has failed to sympathize with our plea to get our colleague to Yungu in time to meet and thus can’t even guarantee the day he might be on his way. Quote: ‘When gas costs $3/liter, we can’t really move without the boat being full of fish to sell to pay our way back. So, I’ll send a message once we get enough fish.’ This is more than understood by everyone on our end, but there are no cell phone networks in Kazimia, so we are unsure how the message will reach us.

2. Arrive at Yungu whenever, and get moving on foot towards Kikonde. Believe me, a 35 km walk is a lot slower when navigating around shady road blocks in mid-day Congo sun. In the event of a nighttime arrival our colleague will have to sleep at the port, because at night the road blocks get drunker.

3. Now, hitch a ride to Baraka, which is a city center in South Kivu, on board a motorcycle making the trip without a passenger. We’ve gotten lucky in the past with drivers from larger aid organizations on the lookout for an extra passenger or two and the ‘pocket money’ that service generates for them. And make haste, because real delays are to be expected at road blocks at Kikonde and on the outskirts of Baraka.

4. Finally, get yourself on a bus for the remaining 150km towards Mboko on any truck in sight moving north. Riding on top of bean sacks with 50 other passengers here is not to be ruled out, but don’t plan on a very cushy ride or even a seat for that matter. Also, everybody out on hills and on river crossings…

After all this, our colleague will be in Mboko with us, following between 2 days and a week of traveling. And, as I’ve seen with my own eyes many times, she’ll arrive in nice clean pagne (fabric), not a hair out of place, looking like she’s on the way to a wedding—at the same time mentally poised and ready to sort out a pretty complex program. It defies all logic, but then again the Congolese women are the toughest and most resilient I’ve ever been lucky enough to work with.

Ned Meerdink

Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)

Posted Jul 27th, 2010

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