After more than two decades of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), violence has escalated between the government and armed groups in the last two years. Today, millions of people are estimated to be internally displaced in a country that already hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries like Rwanda, the Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, and Burundi.
JRS is in Goma, the capital of the North Kivu Province in the DRC. Victor Setibo, JRS Country Director, recently took the time to discuss the current situation in the country, what refugees and internally displaced people are experiencing, and how JRS is accompanying the people there.
The people displaced in North Kivu Province and around Goma need basic survival materials including food, safe water, shelter, and emergency medical attention. JRS partners with several humanitarian organisations to address concerns in the community.
A primary focus of JRS DRC is education in emergencies. In contexts of conflict, the intense violence and consequent movement of people fleeing their homes in search of a safe place represent an impediment to the continuation of education. These situations can lead to the destruction of school facilities and displacement, which may persist for long periods, compromising the possibility for children to continue their education. In response, JRS staff on the ground, in collaboration with partners, created a system that allows displaced children to continue their education in Temporary Learning Spaces.
Access to education is also a means of protection and self-reliance, particularly for girls. JRS DRC is actively finding ways to make their education programmes more accessible, through, for example, the provision of menstrual hygiene kits to reduce the barriers that keep women and girls from attending class.
Girls are encouraged to pursue higher education and even receive training to become teachers themselves. The goal is that one day they can return and teach the next generation of Congolese women in remote areas. “It is so important that girls see themselves represented and have role models in their classroom,” Victor said.
Women and girls in the DRC who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) do a lot of work to heal from these devastating experiences. JRS, through advocacy and awareness-raising on SGBV, accompanies women on this healing journey. “The voices of these girls and women are not heard, but we are championing that change.”
JRS DRC also incorporates mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) into learning environments for both students and their teachers. “Teachers are also displaced so we have training to help people care for their own psychosocial well-being,” Victor said.
Looking towards the future, Victor hopes to implement a more structured, social cohesion programme to help the community in Goma strengthen relationships between different ethnic and cultural groups. He believes that if people have more understanding for where one another comes from and each one’s expected contribution for peace and development, this tension will ease.
“Sometimes we can feel kind of stuck, we ask ourselves, what is the way out? This violence has been happening for many years and the cycle just continues itself.” Right now, Victor explained, he feels like he and his team are just able to focus on emergency response, but his goal is that one day the JRS team will be able to go beyond and create programmes that pave a pathway towards sustainable change.