DRC

Radio station supports thousands fleeing attack

By Jon Hargreaves

Umoja FM, HCR’s partner station in Nobili, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is supporting communities fleeing attacks by Islamist rebels. “Our team are doing all we can to provide essential information to displaced people as well as support to the wider population,” said Station Manager Baraka Bacweki.

According to the UN, urgent action is needed to help tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, following a spate of armed attacks in the eastern DRC by rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces, which are linked to so-called ‘Islamic State’. Local MP, Hon Albert Baliesima described the situation as deplorable for communities who have already endured so much suffering and hardship. He said makeshift schools had been set up in Nobili, and surrounding areas near the Ugandan border to try and provide children with some education and stability.

Makeshift classrooms have been set up to provide education and some stability for displaced children

Makeshift classrooms have been set up to provide education and some stability for displaced children

This latest humanitarian crisis was triggered by attacks which began on March 30 and have continued for a month in Beni territory, North Kivu. According to local health authorities, over 60,000 people were displaced in April alone.

Tamba Emmanuel Danmbi-saa, Oxfam's Humanitarian Program Manager in the DRC, said: “This is a deeply worrying situation. These people fear going back to their homes and are being forced to live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, in an area where Ebola remains a significant threat. These people urgently need food and adequate sanitation facilities as well as clean water and health services.”

Several thousand people are reported to be sheltering in a primary school just 1 km from the border crossing to Uganda. The only water available to drink is from the river and there are only a few toilets at the school, meaning the threat of disease spreading is high. As no food is being provided, for many people the only way to get food is to go back to their villages where they don’t feel safe.

Hon Albert Baliesima, MP for Beni Territory being interviewed by Baraka Bacweki from Umoja FM in Nobili

Hon Albert Baliesima, MP for Beni Territory being interviewed by Baraka Bacweki from Umoja FM in Nobili

“The radio station is providing vital information at this challenging time,” says Baraka. “People are very confused and need information to help them make decisions.”

Humanitarian organisations say that that ongoing violence in the area makes reaching people with aid from within DRC extremely difficult and Ugandan authorities are preparing to receive an influx of new refugees. 

HCR supports communities facing crisis in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. For more information contact hcruk@h-c-r.org

I am not a witch!

WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS SCENES THAT MAY UPSET SOME VIEWERS

Children in their thousands are suffering significant abuse and stigmatisation, or even being killed, due to accusations of witchcraft against them. There are tens of thousands of cases, in many nations worldwide.

‘I’m not a witch’ is a powerful, new short film produced by Congolese film maker, Tshoper Kabambi, designed to promote awareness of the problem. Shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this film is part of a media strategy to engage communities, churches, civic organisations and other stakeholders, with the aim of protecting children from child witchcraft accusations and the associated abuse.

The film features street-living children in Kinshasa that have been affected by the issue of child witchcraft accusations. Using their voices, the film introduces the issue of child witchcraft accusation and the impact it has had on children living on the street. The film includes a small dramatised scenario based on a real-life stories. It also features a pastor speaking about how he previously accused children of being witches and his recognition of the damage it has done to the lives of children and their families.

Child witch accusation is a complex issue. Alongside the film are related materials for radio and downloadable audio podcasts for churches that will further engage people and raise awareness of this complex social problem.  The film and materials recognise that there are differing beliefs on this issue and challenges these from a credible position, enabling misconceptions to be challenged, and highlighting the stigma, discrimination and trauma experienced by children.

These resources were commissioned by Feba in response to requests from street living children and survivors of witchcraft accusations, who wanted to talk about this issue and tell their stories in their own words. HCR Associate, Stephanie Mooney, is active in facilitating this work and encouraging the use of these different resources across the DRC and other countries, to challenge harmful cultural practices and to stop children being abused.

HCR is part of the Stop the Child Witch Accusations steering group (SCWA), a coalition of individuals and agencies responding to the reality of children experiencing serious harm or the threat of harm due to accusations of witchcraft or belief in malevolent spiritual influence.

For more information about this issue and helpful resources please see: https://stop-cwa.org

If this article raises any personal issues please contact your local professional services or contact the helplines below.

In DRC (Kinshasa and Goma): Dial 117

In UK: National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247

In Australia: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) 

 

 

 

 

 

Improving the lives of street living children

Day 14 of #16DaysofActivism

By Stephanie Mooney

Any form of abuse leaves scars. A few years ago I participated in some focus group meetings with street living children, aged from 6 years to 16 years, to explore starting a radio project for Feba UK for these children in Kinshasa, DR Congo. It was particularly difficult to get street living girls to participate but we where able to include a small group of teenage girls. I was deeply affected by a 16 year-old girl who showed me several scars on her body that she had suffered from being beaten and being raped. These were her outward scars but she also had deep psychological scars from her suffering that couldn’t be as easily seen.

Shockingly, this girl’s experiences are not uncommon; as there are approximately 25,000 children living on the streets of Kinshasa and the number is growing. Many of the children are on the streets because they have been accused of being witches and as a result, been thrown out of their homes and excluded from their communities. Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

As the Feba UK radio project developed, the group of street living children helped develop a script for a radio drama series to address child witch accusations and the girls in the group were particularly keen on their experiences being reflected. The part of the drama that they wanted to include was the traumatic ‘baptism’ of young girls on the streets, which is when a girl newly on the streets is ‘initiated’ by being raped.  The girls were very vocal about ensuring that this was reflected correctly in the drama as their experiences and their suffering had previously been ignored.

By being based on the real life experiences of young street living children, the radio drama series and the wider radio project were able to give these children an opportunity to talk about their lives on the streets. Skills development was provided for these street living children to become youth journalists.  This innovative project helped the children find ways to improve their lives and helped change the perception and behaviour of the wider community towards them.

Improving the lives of street living children is a massive challenge and will not happen overnight; however, these youth journalists are persevering and using the media space to share stories, to promote healing and to protect the rights of street living children.  

If this article raises any personal issues please contact your local professional services or contact the helplines below.

In Australia: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

In UK: National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247

Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

Any child living on the street is marginalised, but girls are particularly vulnerable and to survive, many are coerced into sex work.

Protecting Women - Valuing Girls in North Kivu

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Day 9 of #16DaysofActivism

By Jon Hargreaves

I photographed the billboard above recently in a remote village in North Kivu in the DRC. It depicts two men molesting a woman with the words: “You wouldn’t do this if it was your mother, would you!” It is a stark reminder of the widespread use of rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated in this country, notably as a weapon of war and coercion. Ravaged by over twenty years of conflict, with 3.7 million internally displaced people, UNWomen estimates that over 1 million women have been raped in the DRC.

HCR’s partner station in North Kivu, Umoja FM seeks to prevent and respond to sexual violence by building community resilience and changing attitudes about the value of women and girls, especially their education. The station runs programmes which provide counselling and trauma healing for survivors as well as advice for young people. In a meeting with listeners a few weeks ago I heard many stories of how the radio station has made a huge difference since 2016, when it was launched by Feba UK in collaboration with HCR and a local NGO, Esader.

One listener said: “In Watalinga (district) there was an attitude that we had to marry our girls at a very young age and so there was no point educating them. But the radio has changed all that, and I should know, because I used to think like that.” Another said that although many NGO’s had come and gone, the radio is always with them, helping them, bringing new ideas.

Station Manager Baraka Basweki told me, “We are changing community attitudes towards the value of women and girls. As one person changes so they influence another and another - you can feel it is different now.”