[Rather than write three separate entries concerning three recent items of note in Uvira, I decided to combine them for the sake of ease in posting considering an increasingly rare internet connection as of late.]
First, thanks to Vesta Cooperative House in East Lansing, Michigan for ‘partying with a purpose’ on behalf of an AP partner in eastern Congo. Vesta Co-op opened their doors to MSU students and community members last Friday from 9 pm to the wee hours of the morning in order to benefit AP partner Tunza Mazingira (‘Protect the Environment’ in Swahili) and the alternative cooking fuel program which was started this last year by Tunza field worker Clément Kitambala. As Tunza believes that environmental protection equates with civilian protection in the eastern Congolese context, alternative cooking fuel has become a major focus of Tunza’s work. Congolese women regularly risk their personal safety to go into the forests to collect firewood (making them increasingly vulnerable to violence and rape at the hands of the ever-present active armed groups), or sacrifice their stressed family budgets to purchase expensive traditional ‘makala’ in town to cook, which rises weekly in price in response to growing insecurity in the zones where it is produced and increasing scarcity of eucalyptus, which is used to produce makala and is being rampantly deforested.
Vesta Co-op raised over $800 for further development of Clément’s program with alternative cooking briquettes, which are composed of organic waste and offer a multitude of environmental, economic, and security-related benefits for Congolese civilians, which you can read about in greater detail here. The money will go directly to Tunza Mazingira, and will allow us to 1) build three new briquette presses, 2) offer small loans to women cooking and selling road-side food using alternative cooking fuel, 3) give work to 12 demobilized girls coming out of armed groups (which decreases the likeliness of their rejoining militias due to lack of income), who are making and selling alternative briquettes and will do so on a larger scale in the coming weeks with the new presses, and 4) spread awareness throughout Uvira on the benefits of using the briquettes in place of wood or makala-based cooking fires. Vesta Co-op’s generosity (and that of all the party goers) has jump-started Clément’s work in Uvira, and everyone from Tunza’s staff sends their sincere thanks to the co-opers and everyone responsible for organizing the party, making food, buying/drinking booze, and collecting money. All this sort of makes me wish I was still in college…To check out what an East Lansing paper wrote about the benefit, look here.
Secondly, and completely unrelated, is the status of the Kimya II operation to ‘throw out or kill’ thousands of FDLR rebels in South Kivu. I could merely quote the pro-government propaganda aired each night on national radio which says that all is going well and that the FDLR are on their way to extinction, but instead I’d like to offer you a linguistic clue as to what the status of the operation is.
Currently, if you have severe diarrhea in Uvira, you will say (if you are up on local slang), ‘Nasikia Kimya II kabisa.’ [literally, ‘I have serious Kimya II’]. This uncomfortable, dangerous, and frequent killer of civilians used to be called ‘kuhara’ (the literal translation of ‘diarrhea’ into Swahili), but is now simply called ‘Kimya II’. This pretty much sums the operation up. N.B. According to the 2008 IRC mortality report for Congo, diarrhea is one of the primary contributors to the 30,000 or so civilians dying each month due to ‘war related’ causes in eastern Congo, which include lack of housing and clean water due to populations fleeing combat, ruined clinics and lack of medical care, and a variety of other problems intensified and unaddressed in light of the insecurity here. Thus, the sense of this recent addition to the ‘Uvira dictionary’ seems pretty clear. The people have spoken and offered a pretty candid approximation on Kimya II’s recent results. Having had no running water in three weeks, everyone in Uvira is starting to feel a bit of ‘Kimya II’ one way or another.
Thirdly, AP partner SOS Femmes en Danger and I were finally able to arrange the much awaited arrival of the uniforms and school supplies so kindly donated by Diane Von Furstenburg in the villages of Kazimia, Kikonde, and Mboko. The uniforms and supplies benefited children of single mothers, widows, and victims of sexual violence. A small gap in fighting opened up the roads for movement South from Uvira, and now lots of kids are back in class, albeit a bit late. A bad omen for the immediate future emerged when combat resumed as the trip was coming to an end, with Mai-Mai vs. FARDC battles in Kikonde and Mboko (even in heavily populated Baraka town), and FDLR occupation and partial burning of a village 4 km from Kazimia.
Nevertheless, thanks very much to Diana Von Furstenburg for making it possible for so many kids in Fizi to continue their studies. The regulations at schools in Congo are fairly draconian concerning the requirement of new uniforms for incoming students, so ‘le rentre’ would have been impossible for a lot of kids without the DVF support. Now, if only security can improve a bit to create an atmosphere where studying can happen without fear and without firefights drowning out recitations and lessons.
Posted By Ned Meerdink (DR Congo)
Posted Sep 19th, 2009