Coronavirus: local solutions to local problems in eastern DRCongo

Une jeunesse au service de la paix et du développement durable

As the Coronavirus pandemic accelerates in Africa, fear is gaining ground in eastern DRCongo, ravaged by violence and armed groups for decades.  And our organization Amani-Institute ASBL implements a clever initiative to counter the Coronavirus crisis in a context of conflicts and humanitarian crisis while feeding the most vulnerable, preventing conflicts or community violence but also avoiding moral perversion or  dissuading young people from joining the ranks of armed groups active in the region because of idleness during confinement.

My organization has implemented an initiative called « Tupone wote » that is to say heal together, in the local language.  As the Coronavirus pandemic surprised us, it was necessary to set up a dynamic of community mobilization as a matter of urgency in particular to deal with Coronavirus and its effects, but without leaving anyone behind.

Our initiative includes several branches of activity and it is in particular: the production and the diffusion by the radio waves, spots and soap operas on the barrier gestures and solidarity in this moment of crisis…the awareness campaign  on the streets by means of megaphones…the organization of the descents in makeshift camps where the displaced populations live to raise their awareness and give a device for handwashing but also rods of soap…the realization of the drawings  hand and printing of posters to raise awareness of deaf mutes and offer them protective masks…the development of a community vegetable garden to supply fresh vegetables to the vulnerable, in particular elderly people and women survivors of violence sexual…the popularization of a small guide to conduct in confinement and the collection of books to read to avoid moral perversion with idleness among young people…the mobilization of community radios in the region for the cessation of hostilities or community violence linked to tribalism in order to prioritize peace at this time of crisis.

The reason behind this initiative is that, we live in a region already weakened by armed conflicts and community violence and where the Coronavirus is one more misfortune.  Here, people almost no longer trust the authorities or the humanitarian agencies because they think that they are at the base of their misfortune by targeting their own interests.  And people develop mistrust with false beliefs and conspiracy theories that lead them to adopt hostile behavior that could endanger their own lives.  This is how we took the initiative to intervene as young people mastering the local context, to calm the emotions first, confirm that the disease exists and show the need to adopt responsible behaviors to stop the  spread of the dangerous Coronavirus.  At least we were sure that the people would listen to us because we still have their trust.

As a result or impact, we are pleased with the work accomplished to this level, because the mobilization was great and our activities were a great success thanks to the commitment of the young volunteers of our organization Amani-Institute ASBL.  Without any support from outside, we estimate in particular that our initiative must have covered more than 50,000 people, many of whom must have heard our message from community radios, other people picked up our message from the street,  many others have seen our posters and drawings…some people have also benefited from our protective masks, our fresh vegetables and our rods of soap or handwashing devices in the province of North Kivu. 

As a direct impact, some young people, women and men who, until then, were skeptical, have taken up the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic today and they continue to raise awareness in their villages even after our departure.  But it must be said that there is still an important work to be done in particular in raising awareness, because it is a question of bringing people who are physically and morally bruised to change their behavior and this in a context of conflicts and  humanitarian crisis.  I admit that this process will be long and slow but we will succeed because we are a committed and dynamic youth but we also have the confidence of the population unlike the authorities and humanitarian agencies.

We took several steps to implement this initiative and it was not at all easy.  We first had to get rid of fear, to come together and conceive the idea in an emergency climate because the Coronavirus pandemic was already in our country.  We then developed a business plan including social mobilization strategies adapted to the local context and a timetable to follow.  And then, it was necessary to bring together the young volunteers, mobilize some means on board and give everyone their role.  Thus, we launched the initiative towards the beginning of April, while several people had not yet realized the seriousness of the threat.

We encountered enormous challenges in carrying out our initiative on several levels.  -Firstly, we did not have enough means that would allow us to properly implement our initiative, so we had to do it with on-board means.  -Secondly, because of the restrictions to stop the spread of Coronavirus, it was difficult for us to bring people together as usual to raise awareness.  so we had to go down the street with megaphones to get the message out, make drawings and posters, but also use the small local community radios which, for lack of means, require us to pay for the space.  -Thirdly, sometimes we lack internet plans to access reliable information concerning the Coronavirus pandemic and the prevention mode.  But also, insecurity did not allow us to access all the villages and sometimes people are hostile towards us on the ground because the war has otherwise shaped the minds of many young people here.

The big lesson we learned from the Coronavirus pandemic and the Ebola epidemic is that we young people should take over because people believe in us. This really interested me, when people who refuse to believe in the authorities and the humanitarian agencies, accept to believe in us, because we try to associate them in our activities so that they are part of the solution.

Please get in touch with us, if you want to help us in whatever it is…because by doing so, you will help several beneficiaries of our activities including people living in eastern DRCongo, surviving the horrors of war, Ebola and the Coronavirus.

Joseph Tsongo CEO Amani-Institute ASBL

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