Umoja FM

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

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.”