Refugee Stories: Accompanying the internally displaced in the DR Congo

The following interview was done by Bienvenu Kambale Lutsumbi, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

Below is an English version of the interview which was conducted in French. To read the French interview, click here.

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Masika Kahindo Marie Jeanne, 50 years-old, is the Executive Secretary of the Center for the Supervision and Promotion of Displaced Persons, ISPRON, or Social Integration for the Promotion of the Needy. She has been in charge of the accompaniment of the displaced since 2003 in the city of Butembo, province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She draws this passion from the Catholic church where she has been serving for a long time. She watches over 1,432 households, some of whom live in the Matoto camp in Butembo, while others live with host families. She has succeeded in integrating a dozen of the displaced into the street cleaning team of the city of Butembo and a large number of the displaced are working as day laborers in the rehabilitation of urban roads. Mrs. Kahindo, a married mother of three children, acknowledged that there are still many difficulties, especially in the schooling and care of those Congolese victims who have suffered from repetitive atrocities.

Bienvenu Kambale Lutsumbi: What can you tell us about yourself?

Masika Kahindo Marie Jeanne: I am the secretary of the Social Integration for the Promotion of the Needy, ISPRON, since 10 February 2010. This is the result of my initiative, which is rooted in the suffering that the displaced people have been experiencing since my childhood. Shortly before I started this association, I was already giving myself to this apostolate. As a Catholic Christian of faith, I do not like to see suffering in my fellow man, especially when I can do something to get him out of this painful situation. I am a mother of several children, which is a title that makes me proud because of being able to host children, orphans of parents following the war. I am age 50, married, with three children. And I have lived in Butembo forever.

What is ISPRON targeting mainly for the displaced?

We have many services that we render to the displaced persons; we proceed to their reception and identification in our area of ​​operation. Here we collaborate with the head of the entity that welcomes them to avoid receiving suspects instead of displaced persons. Then we provide them with tokens that allow us to identify them whenever we have an aid to distribute to them; these tokens allow them to access care in all the health facilities with which we collaborate. The same tokens allow displaced persons of school age to enjoy the right to be educated in our partner schools. Afterwards, we collect food and non-food to try to meet, to some extent, the material needs of our displaced.

Approximately how many internally displaced persons or IDPs are you supervising within ISPRON and where do they most come from?

Most of the displaced people we host come from the territories of Beni and Lubero in the province of North Kivu. They say they fear for their security in these areas torn by interminable armed conflicts that are either inter-ethnic or international. It is like those fleeing the wars of the Allied Democratic Forces, “ADF NALU”, pure rebels Ugandan, Rwandan etc. In Lubero, moreover, the Rwandan rebels FDRL are active in this area where our brothers live from agriculture and livestock. In addition to these, we find peasants who are expelled from their land due to land conflicts which are another kind of social insecurity with an extent not at all negligible. Finally, of these, we can also count those who were expelled from their villages because they were suspected of being a sorcerer. In all, we have 1,432 households that we supervise. And at average we have 5 individuals per household.

How do they live in Butembo?

They are living through difficult living conditions. Especially when they get sick, it’s all ISPRON can do to help. Those with relatives are not so much a burden for us. But those who did not have relatives, they live squarely in the camps and the less deprived in the tents. Among them, there are intellectuals, those who need intervention so little by being involved in teaching or in other professions of their choice and according to the opportunities. The ordeal is that the large number of our displaced people are illiterate. These are helped by our efforts in various odd jobs to contribute to their survival. We have already assigned a dozen of them to the sweeping team of the three tarred roads of Butembo. While welcoming the authorities that grant us this favor, we are calling for an improvement in the working conditions of the latter. It is incomprehensible that they work without being protected from the dust and still every six days of the week they sweep through the ballets which oblige them to work bent. Apart from these, many work on the rehabilitation of urban roads. The last category is that of the displaced persons of the third age.

What happens when a displaced person gets sick or dies?

Whenever they are sick we send them to the health facilities partners to follow up with care. And the invoice is paid by us. But we already have a compromise with these caregivers, that is to pay one-third of the bill. And since we ourselves operate our structure, we sometimes accumulate debts without knowing how we will pay. For example, at the FEPSI hospital where we owe 1607.07 US dollars and at Tulezeni, but also elsewhere are 800, 700 dollars, etc. If unfortunately a displaced person dies we take care of all the funeral ceremonies by collaborating with the local authorities who contribute by buying a coffin.

Do you have refugees among the IDPs?

None at all. All are internally displaced. I worked with refugees in the first steps of my career with the wars between nations.

Are you occupied solely with the physical condition of IDPs or do you attend to their spirituality also?

In addition to food and health, we are involved in the spiritual life of our displaced. As proof, we celebrated three marriages of the sons of the displaced with displaced girls. Moreover, we have baptized some twenty children among the displaced over whom we watch.

Do you find that they usually have psychological problems when you are welcoming them?

Several of them come to us stressed and we submit them to psychiatrists and psychologists. Often it is because they have witnessed the carnage of their peers and loved ones. Others, the inestimable number of lifeless bodies on which they walked in flight, create in them an unnamed fear.

Do the residents of Butembo help you with this visibly heavy task?

Some churches and schools help us. It is like the Catholic Church that has already provided us with an office and a meeting room where we gather them twice a week. There are also benefactors who are often married women who come to support those among these displaced and in return they give a monthly support to their family.

The Congolese government does not accompany you financially?

Not often. They had accompanied us for a given period by paying 1,770 pupils in the first quarter at the rate of 10 US dollars each child.

Do the debts you incur in your name scare you sometimes?

I am very afraid that one day they will send me to prison for all these debts. However, we set up small projects such as Amarant Gardens and food products in the small plot of land that the Catholic Church offered us. Sometimes it makes us something. Among the displaced others are grateful and they bring us a little of their income after having mastered some other trade. But this is always insignificant.

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Bienvenu Kambale Lutsumbi is a graduate in sciences of information and communication at ISEAB High School (Institut Supérieur Emmanuel D’Alzon). He’s the manager of a local radio station broadcasting in Butembo city in North Kivu province. He also serves as a casuel camaraman at MCA (Marie Consolatrice des affligés), a Catholic spiritual center in Butembo-Beni diocese. 

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