For many, life in Masisi in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a constant cycle of violence, displacement, and return. Many villages are affected time and time again as armed groups take territory, are forced out in subsequent clashes, and return to the bush.
Later, they re-launch attacks and the cycle begins again. In every attack and counterattack, families are forced to flee their homes. Some leave at night to sleep in the nearby forest or in their fields. Others abandon their villages altogether. Often civilians themselves are targeted. Sexual violence is rampant, and armed groups have long used rape as a weapon of war.
As Concern’s Emergency Programme Coordinator in Masisi, much of my time is spent constantly monitoring security. Even a small incident could ignite the ethnic tensions – the undercurrent of the conflict – and force us to suspend our programmes. Thankfully, since I arrived six months ago, we have never had to stop our programme activities for very long.
The constant volatility, however, forces us to be flexible and nimble with what we do and where we do it. Each time a family is displaced, they leave behind homes, possessions, livelihoods, and whatever education opportunities existed for their children. They often settle with other families who are then forced to share whatever food, shelter, and income they have, driving communities deeper into poverty.
Working with populations who are constantly uprooted requires giving people the basics that they need to survive while also helping them to recover what was lost. Concern provides a rapid response for newly displaced families settling in camps, spontaneous displacement sites, and host communities. With the support of European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), USAID and Irish Aid, we distribute essential relief items like tarps, clothing, blankets, cooking sets and soap. We also help vulnerable host families as well as people returning to their homes after conflict to restore what assets they lost and restart livelihoods activities.
For 30-year-old Baeni, these relief items were the first assistance she, her husband, and five children received after fleeing their home for a camp near Masisi in North Kivu.
After I arrived in the camp, life was so hard. We had nothing – no belongings, nowhere to shelter, and nothing to sleep on…The kit had pots, plates, cutlery, blankets, clothes, and other really important things for the household. Then my husband started constructing the temporary shelter where we and our children could live. Now every three months, Concern also gives us sanitary towels and soap, so that we can always be clean.
Last year, fighting in between Masisi and Walikale pushed us to work in two new areas so we could respond to the needs of 1,831 households. This was in addition to 5,919 households we were already working with across the Nyabiondo-Lukweti, Shoa, and Kazinga areas, and over 5,000 households which we have been working with across five displacement camps in Masisi.