In the distance, as far as I could see, were dense green hills covered in mist. I am told that in those hills hide the armed groups responsible for recent massacres, alongside them, the mountain gorillas that I had recently learnt of in the film ‘Virunga’ – about people fighting to protect Virunga National Park against war, poaching and oil exploitation. Next to the road I saw a mix of small refugee camps and deserted villages – the signs of people who settle then flee, settle then flee.
The drive from Bunia to Beni was long and punctuated by military roadblocks. At a certain point, we had left open savannah behind and entered Congo’s rain forest – what people refer to when they talk of Africa’s ‘interior’.
I was on my way to Malvivi, a village 20km from Beni, to meet with locals and find out how we are helping their communities. After a four hour journey in a battered white Toyota Land Cruiser I was stiff, sweaty and tired, unsure of what would greet me. But as the car rolled to a stop among the dusty huts of the tiny village and I stepped out, I heard someone calling – “Rose, Rose!” It was Anita.
I had met Anita in Bunia. She’s one of the women who CRC have been providing with micro-loans to support their small businesses. The idea behind the project is to support women affected by conflict to increase their economic security, increasing security and development for their families and communities, in turn, leading to less conflict.
Since the micro loan scheme started in 2012, Anita has received four loans. The first was for $100 and with this she would buy and sell four to five sacks of charcoal each week, earning $36 to $45 a week. She would buy one sack for $6 and sell it for $15. Because of the loan, she has been able to increase the income she earns from this. Now she is able to buy and sell 15 sacks a week, earning $135. She plans to increase this to 20 sacks as the scheme continues.
She has also used the loan towards building a house for herself and her children. But in recent months the village where she was living became unsafe as it was targeted by armed groups, so she fled. Anita is not back in her home yet. However because of the loan system she is able to provide her family with their basic requirements.
This is the reality of the environment where CRC are working. Only with our funding can they continue to provide local people like Anita with the skills to reject conflict and rebuild their lives.
Not only are CRC providing women like Anita with sustainable livelihoods, their work is also challenging and reversing traditional gender roles through helping women to take on the responsibility of building their families’ homes. Women are now more respected in the communities and have a bigger role in household decision making.
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