Project Controlling Trip to DR Congo and Uganda
In May 2022, a delegation from the Commission to be Partners made a two-week trip to Africa to review the projects there. Result: We are impressed and convinced that we are on the right track.
Since the 1990s and Julia Murbach-Thomson's visit to Bunia, no one from Partner sein has been to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)... And yet, our aid work has never given up, despite the sometimes very tense, conflict-ridden and terrifying situation in the eastern provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri. Our commitment in this region is more essential than ever. We have finally come to realise this once again, with the memorable trip of a large delegation between 31 April and 15 May 2022, a real journey between Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda.
The hills of Kigali
The A330-300 flies over the equator at an altitude of more than 11,000m, while cumulus clouds rise as far as the eye can see above. Dusk arrives, the sun sets through the rain clouds with crackling lightning. An hour later, the wheels touch down on the tarmac in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills. Uneventful immigration, hotel and a good dinner. The next morning, Sunday, we wait for the results of the PCR test. Then the first immersion in the Rwandan tragedy of 1994, the consequences of which caused the need for the projects we support in the DRC: the genocide. We visit the memorial and pay our respects at the graves of 250,000 people massacred in Kigali, the total number of victims being estimated at one million. Alone or in groups, survivors, sometimes with young people, come to share a moment with their missing relatives. The sobriety of the living memory is admirable, the confrontation with the worst of humanity baffles us.
The working-class districts of Bukavu
We arrive in Bukavu after a bucolic journey of several hours by bus through the mountains of Rwanda. We cross the border bridge over the Rusizi River on foot and with our suitcases in tow. The welcome in the DRC is fantastic: all our partners are at the gate, big smiles, hugs, finally we are there. Immigration is a pleasant formality: a health check, a visa check and then it is in a procession that we reach the bishop's residence for a sumptuous welcome snack prepared by the family of Bishop Sylvestre Bahati Bali-Busane. We then spend the evening in our guesthouse on the shores of Lake Kivu, on the peninsula (one of the five fingers) that hosts dozens, if not hundreds, of humanitarian organisations whose names are all too often in the news: UN/MONUSCO, FAO, WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR, Switzerland (SDC), MSF, etc...
The following days are intense, filled with visits to the various medical, development and training services of the Anglican diocese in various popular neighbourhoods in and around Bukavu. Shacks cling together on steep slopes; one of these neighbourhoods is so steep that it is nicknamed "Quartier Spiderman". Every heavy rainfall causes deadly landslides. While the main streets are paved, the alleys are made of dirt and ruts. Electricity, running water and sewage are not common. The population is incredibly dense and young. These are the urban conditions of Être Partenaires' projects in Bukavu.
The effectiveness of community-based care
Whether at the St Mathieu hospital or in a rural health centre such as Kabanda or Cirunga, on the edge of the area authorised for us by the intelligence service, it is the efficiency and dedication of the medical staff that strikes us. Dozens of motivated people who are committed, trained and coordinated in a network, right in the heart of the neighbourhoods and villages, and who also manage the WHO and WFP vaccination, screening and prevention programmes (measles, cholera, malaria, AIDS, malnutrition, etc.) on site. With very limited means, lives are saved day and night, babies are born, traumatised women are taken care of... it is overwhelming to see what these project codes "K06 Medicines", "K07 Psychiatry" etc. mean in reality.
Shaloom School Centre in Ciriri
Bashi dancers welcome us to the Shaloom School Centre, together with Augustin Cimole and the SIBAP committee, engineer Samuel Mushagalusa Minani and the customary and school authorities. The ceremony is punctuated by speeches and testimonies. It is an essential milestone for sharing about this important long-term construction project for the primary and secondary education of children in the Ciriri district of Bagira/Bukavu. As on every visit, Partner sein and its donors as well as our Church are warmly thanked. And with a few words, we pay tribute to all our partners on the spot as well as to the beneficiaries, because without them the money could not be transformed into concrete actions.
Sources of hope in Idjwi
By boat to the south of the island of Idjwi. On the way, we see small islands that could use our support in the future, for example by drilling a well and buying a dugout canoe. Before disembarking, the Swiss delegation is reminded of the importance of respecting the rules of hand hygiene, cholera being endemic on Idjwi. We leave our luggage in a simple but nice guesthouse on the coast, then on a 4x4 track and on foot in the hills and ravines to discover some spring catchments. These simple and robust catchments provide drinking water to thousands of households. Transporting the water remains a chore, especially for women (25l per trip), but at least the quality of the water is guaranteed. The last one to be built is for a Pygmy village, poor among the poor, because the Pygmies have no land and used to live in the rainforest, which has shrunk (population explosion) or become uninhabitable (militias, rebels).
The origins of human life
Taking the fast boat from the south of Idjwi Island to Goma, you admire the landscape as it passes by. Sometimes the jungle descends to the shores of Lake Kivu, often the crops climb the hillsides. To the west and north, the mountain peaks, especially the Nyiragongo volcano north of Goma, are lost in the clouds. Fishermen sail on their pirogues, bringing in their nets at a steady pace. To the north of the island, the swell forms, the spray splashes on us. We are in the Great Lakes region, in the famous Great East African Rift, which separates the Somali plate from the African plate. And I think back to Bahati Mutunzi's remark of the day before: this region is the origin of human life, an additional, even symbolic reason to return and take an interest in it.
Goma, nutrition in the shadow of the volcano
22 May 2021, eruption of Nyiragongo. We see on the spot that villages have disappeared under the lava north of Goma. Partner sein supports our local partner, ASDIG and its president Claudaline Muhindo, in organising emergency aid for the affected families, whom we meet.
Then we visit the Tumainy centre for nutrition and schooling of orphans that we support, together with other NGOs. Claudaline and her team are making great strides, but the needs still far exceed the available resources. Goma is growing, but gives the impression of good governance. There is also a large presence of NGOs and international organisations, as well as peacekeepers.
We also meet Kahwa Njojo, Rector of the Anglican University of Bunia, in the Ituri province of north-eastern DRC, to review its projects, which we are unable to visit this time. Perhaps some people remember him, Kahwa was visiting at the National Synod in Lancy in 2019?
Between visits to projects in the DRC and Uganda, the delegation had 2-3 days of tourism. It is postcard Africa, from Lake Kivu to Lake Victoria, passing through the north-west of Rwanda, the region of the great volcanoes with its virgin forests where gorillas live (we leave this encounter for another time) and hills and valleys where rice and tea grow. We dive into Lake Bunjonyi at dusk. Further on, between sun and storm, Diana, a ranger from the Mburo National Park, duly armed with her Kalashnikov, introduces us to the fauna and flora of the Ugandan savannah: zebras, impalas, buffalos, hippos, crocodiles, kingfishers, cranes, eagles... and the unbelievable warthogs.
Decades of Catholic-Christian presence in Uganda
Back to the "Land of Partnership" in Kyotera province, west of Lake Victoria. Kanoni, Bulyakamu and Kiwenda have been familiar names for many years. We are welcomed there by Bishop Henry and Reverend Fred, with whom we inaugurate wells and school buildings. Hundreds of pupils and parents as well as the teaching staff welcome us with music and song. And their sense of hospitality is also reflected in the generous and delicious banquets. It is a little difficult to keep up with the pace... but it is an opportunity to see how far we have come, and to take the measure of what remains to be done.
And all too soon the dreaded moment arrives: we have to go back to Switzerland... we cross the equator to get to Entebbe airport for the night flight to Brussels.
Some lessons and challenges
The partnership on the ground: essential and enriching, without which nothing would be feasible or imaginable.
Going, seeing and trying to understand: without this, it is complicated and even futile to try to cooperate and be useful.
The human dimension is essential: social skills are the keystone of any development project.
Global effects of regional crises, regional impacts of global disruptions: this goes beyond our sphere of influence, but it must be taken into account.
Energy, water, education, health, food, peace...: the Sustainable Development Goals, the Agenda 2030, the framework that helps us set priorities.
Remaining humble in the face of the immensity of needs does not mean doing nothing. Helping to help ourselves? Yes, every franc is multiplied by our partners and beneficiaries on the ground, by their work, their involvement, their ethics. Human lives are saved and dignified. Thank you for your support!
And last but not least, friendship: we have met people who have simply become friends.
Your next meeting with Partner sein: 17 August 2022
On Wednesday 17 August 2022, the annual meeting of Partner sein will be held in the parish hall of Kramgasse 10, Bern, with the exceptional visit of Mgr Wilson, our partner in South Sudan. Come in great numbers!
Good to know
To avoid any misunderstanding... The trip was not paid for by the relief organisation Partner sein: the participants took their free time and financed their trip.
Such a trip cannot be improvised, and the list of requirements is long, from vaccinations and visas to accommodation and land and lake transport. None of this would have been possible without the unstinting commitment of Beatrice Reusser Rüthy, Head of Partner sein for English-speaking Africa. Last but not least, we would like to thank our partner-hosts - the list is long! - for the official steps and guidance on site, without whom we would not have been able to visit the projects. In particular, we would like to mention the people in charge, representing their organisations: the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Bukavu, Mgr Sylvestre Bahati Bali-Busane and his team, Augustin Cimole and SIBAP, Claudaline Muhindo and ASDIG, Rev. Fred and Mgr Henry...
This trip was a great adventure, an avalanche of sensations, impressions, encounters, scents, flavours, landscapes, sounds... sometimes beyond our comfort zones. We came out of it grown up, with new friendships. Thank you to all the members of the group, and thank you to all those who stayed behind for their trust and encouragement.
Franz Peter Murbach
Commission Partner sein
Head of French-speaking Africa