All posts by Heidi Bentley

Annual Report 2018-2019

The whole Congo Tree team is excited to share with you The Congo Tree’s latest Annual Report. We started the year celebrating our 5th Anniversary and the nearly 500 young leaders that we had seen through the WYLD programme so far – and we ended the year celebrating our first programme in Rutshuru, moving in to our very own place (affectionately called ‘The Treehouse’) and the further 174 young people that we worked with during the year. What a year!

Whether this is the first report of ours that you’ve read or the fifth, we hope that something in it inspires you to keep being a part of the story. And, of course, we love to hear from you – please do contact us if you have any questions or comments: hello@thecongotree.org.uk

ENGLISH: 18-19 annualreport FINAL EN (1)

FRENCH: coming soon!

Social Action Project: Rise Up Together

EN: The Congo Tree provides each team of young leaders on the WYLD programme $100 for the development and delivery of a social action project. This challenge is to inspire young people to change society from within by using methods of group work, creativity, working for peace, leading with integrity, serving and supporting others to value their origins and to be innovative in entrepreneurship.

Thus, the August 2018 Goma cohort of young leaders initiated a project called “Rise Up Together”; a project aimed at the financial strengthening of vulnerable women with small businesses in informal marketplaces in the city of Goma.

 

Riziki (featured photograph above) was given $20. She began with selling shoes, to care for her three little sisters as well as their parents who live in the village of Katana in South Kivu. With this loan of capital, she repays $4.5 per month.

She gives us her testimony here: “I do not know what to say other than to say thank you to these young people, like me, who thought to bring some solutions to the various problems that are lived in the community. I sell these shoes and it allows for the education of my little sisters. Today, with the little profit that I earn and  with some friends, we’ve opened a shop and this is a great support for me, as well as for my family. Big thanks to The Congo Tree.”

Mrs Kahambu, another of the beneficiaries of this project with a sum of $40, gives us her testimony:

“I would never stop thanking The Congo Tree and its work with the youth. I am a married woman and mother of three, but sadly my husband ended up unemployed and life became very difficult. Thanks to the help received by these young people, our lives have improved and I feel able to support my children back into school next year. Thank you to these young people who, through their initiative, there will be one more child who will return to school and a life that has already changed. May God bless you and do not stop only at me but continue this act of love with many other families. Be infinitely blessed.”

Mrs Kahambu was able to benefit from $40 to strengthen her business of selling hats. Every week for 6 months she repaid $2.5. At her small stall, she also carries out another activity, that of braiding the other women’s hair and that allows her to make the repayments and even to save a small amount each month!


FR: The Congo Tree, disponibilise 100$ à chaque équipe pour l’exécution de leur projet social. Et ceci toujours dans le but d’inspirer les jeunes à changer la société à partir de l’intérieur en utilisant des méthodes de travail en groupe, la créativité, œuvrer pour la paix, diriger avec intégrité, servir et supporter les autres à mettre en valeur leurs origine, être innovateurs dans l’entreprenariat.

Ainsi, ces groupes des leaders mentors pour la promotion en cours pour cette année 2018, a initié un projet dénommé TUINUKE PAMOJA”; projet visant le renforcement financier aux femmes vulnérables exerçants le petit commerce dans le secteur informel dans la ville de Goma.

Madame Kahambu, bénéficiaire de ce dit projet avec une somme de 40$, nous donne son témoignage :

« Je ne cesserais de remercier The Congo Tree au travers son travail qu’il fait avec la jeunesse. Je suis une femme mariée et mère de trois enfants mais fort malheureusement mon mari s’est retrouvé au chômage et la vie nous est devenue très difficile. Grâce, à l’aide reçu par ces jeunes, notre vie s’est améliorée et je me sens capable de ramener mes enfants l’année prochaine à l’école. Merci à ces jeunes; qui au travers leur initiative, il y aura un enfant de plus qui va reprendre le chemin de l’école et une vie qui aura déjà changée. Que Dieu vous bénisse et ne vous arrêter pas seulement à moi mais faites cet acte d’amour à plusieurs autres familles. Soyez infiniment béni.»

Madame Kahambu, a pu bénéficier de 40$ pour renforcer son commerce de vente des chapeaux. Chaque semaine, elle rembourse 2.5$ et cela pendant 6 mois. A son point de vente, elle y exerce une autre activité, celle de tresser les autres femmes et cela lui permet d’effectuer les remboursements et d’épargner une petite somme.

Riziki a obtenu 20$. Elle est appelée à vendre les chaussures pour s’occuper des trois petites sœurs mais également de leurs parents qui vivent au village de Katana dans le Sud-Kivu. Avec ce renforcement dans son capital, elle rembourse 4.5$ par mois.

Elle nous donne ici son témoignage : « Je ne sais quoi dire que de dire merci à ces jeunes comme moi qui ont pensé à apporter certaines solutions aux divers problèmes qui se vivent dans la communauté. Depuis que j’ai bénéficié de cet argent, je me sens encore plus responsable. Je vends ces chaussures et ca permet de scolariser mes petites sœurs. Aujourd’hui, avec le peu de bénéfice que je gagne et avec certaines amies, nous avons ouvert une boutique et cela est un grand soutien pour moi, ainsi que pour ma famille, grand merci à The Congo Tree»

Focus on a Leader: Christian

EN: Christian has been one of The Congo Tree facilitators since 2014. He is currently working in Butembo, in the far north of the North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, supporting efforts to stop the spread of Ebola.

Christian works with many other volunteers in the response to the Ebola virus raging in the area, which has already killed over a thousand people. Christian, alongside many other young people, sacrifices his time day and night to help fight Ebola in this part of the country.  However, he also faces resistance from some young people in the area who still don’t understand that Ebola is a reality, who don’t believe that the disease needs to be fought; a disease which in some cases has killed the volunteers from the Ebola Response Team.

Due to this resistance, Christian has taken the initiative to start raising awareness of Ebola with young people in the city of Butembo, to influence them positively as they become aware of the seriousness of the disease. Since March, Christian has hosted gatherings in his little house in Butembo. Every Sunday, the young people come together to learn about how problematic the disease is, but also to discuss the development of these young people’s abilities to solve certain problems in the community.

Christian believes that, thanks to this way of doing things and to the positive influence that is being transferred to the youth, it will ensure that the spread of Ebola is limited and that the disease Response Teams can work in good conditions because often young people are the most exploited.

“Thanks to The Congo Tree, today I am able to be more creative and meet with more young people with whom I can discuss the problems of the community, especially the ways in which we can contribute to the eradication of this Ebola disease. Today, these young people are raising awareness of how to follow the necessary hygiene rules, starting with their families, and with the support of the Ebola Response team. Our hope is to see an end to this disease so that the situation can return to normal in this part of the country.” – Christian


FR: Christian, l’un de facilitateur de The Congo Tree depuis 2014, travaille actuellement à Butembo, dans le grand Nord de la Province du Nord Kivu en République Démocratique du Congo.

Il travaille avec beaucoup d’autre volontaire dans le cadre du Riposte de la maladie à virus Ebola qui fait rage dans cette région et a tué plusieurs personnes dans cette partie. Christian avec beaucoup d’autre jeune se sacrifie jour et nuit pour combattre cette maladie dans cette partie du pays mais aussi fait face à la résistance de la jeunesse de cette partie qui jusque là ne comprenne pas que c’est une réalité qui existe est que nous devons combattre cette maladie parfois même tuer ces volontaires de l’équipe de Riposte d’Ebola.

Avec cette résistance Christian a pris l’initiative de commencer à faire des sensibilisations au prêt des jeunes de la ville de Butembo , pour leurs influencer positivement et qu’ils prennent conscience de la gravité de cette maladie. Depuis le mois de mars, Christian réuni dans sa petite maison à Butembo, chaque dimanche des jeunes pour leurs montrer la problématique de cette maladie mais aussi discuter sur le développer personnelle des capacité des ces jeunes pour résoudre certains problèmes dans cette communauté.

Christian crois que grâce à cette manier de faire et à cet influence positif qui est entrain de se transférer au prêt des jeunes, cela fera a ce que la manière de la propagations de cette maladie soit limité et que les équipes des riposte de la maladie travaille dans des bonnes conditions car souvent les jeunes sont les plus manipulé.

«  Grâce à The Congo Tree, aujourd’hui je suis capable de devenir créatif et réunir autour de moi plus de jeunes avec qui nous allons discuter sur les problèmes de la communauté et surtout contribuer à l’éradication de cette maladie d’Ebola. Aujourd’hui ces jeunes sont entrain des sensibiliser au niveau de leurs familles sur le bien fonder de l’équipe de Riposte de l’Ebola et comment appliquer les règles d’hygiènes. Notre espoir est de voir cette maladie terminée et la situation redevenir normal dans cette partie du Pays. » – Christian


Focus on a Young Leader: Julien

Julien lives in Goma and is a student of the arts at Mwanga College, with a passion for reading. Interview by Sage. 

As a young leader mentored by Paisible, Julien was impressed by his mentor’s ability to speak out and share his opinion. Due to cultural context and the various problems faced within their country, particularly in North-Kivu, youth are generally not given the chance to speak in front of people. And, like many other youth, Julien was afraid of speaking out even if there was an opportunity. Yet, through his time and training on the WYLD programme, he says he is now able to speak in front of people, no matter who they are.

Julien has been dreaming of setting up his own men’s hair salon for some time. He says that his mentor has also helped him to make this a reality!

Julien explained to us how it is truly a privilege to go through challenging times with his mentor. With the various frameworks and training that he received, he came to realise that it is important to work hard throughout life, because his future depends on it.

“I began small, with the idea of my own hair salon and, with time, I have developed a big plan which will help me financially in the future. I need to continue to advance further than where I currently am.”

Julien now accepts that in order to succeed in life, it is necessary to strive and work hard: “You become big by thinking big.”

Focus on a Young Leader: Anne-Marie

ENG: I am Anne-Marie, I am 19 years old, and I am in the CAP Programme run by the organisation HEAL Africa.  Since April 2018, I am also part of the story of The Congo Tree thanks to the training that I received and the mentoring that I have as part of this.

My greatest achievement during this past few months in The Congo Tree is the personal development of some of my skills. Since I was very young, I dreamed of serving others and sharing useful knowledge to help friends to move forward, but I did not know how to go about it.

“Thanks to The Congo Tree, I realised that I had great strengths and abilities, and that I lacked only the courage to face the obstacles that stood in front of me.”

After the first weekend of training, I realised that I can influence my friends positively, not just with big actions; even the smallest actions can encourage those that want to change. More and more, the training sessions challenged my thoughts and my worldview; my fears turned into determination and opportunity to achieve my dreams.

With all that I went through previous to the training, I realise my decision-making was always too quick and with many harmful consequences. I was angry and I thought that I was stigmatised and neglected by others, but I now understand that much of this was simply in my head and that it was for me to make myself useful for the community. I understand now that going through suffering is like a school that helps us to grow up and pushes a young person to think like an adult.

This programme is very important to me because it allows me to support others and raise their level of thinking, so we can all move forward. The love and affection that I cannot have at home, I find it with friends, and my duty is to support others who are in the same situation as me.

“I am the one who is mentored in the programme but in the community, I am now also a mentor for others because many of my peers want to also change in the ways they have seen in me.”

To achieve change is not always easy, but with strength and with lessons on problem-solving, how to trust and how to positively influence others, it allows me to move forward every day.

Currently I feel that I have the support of the community that encourages me and allows me to move forward. The HEAL Africa CAP programme is a great support for me, with all the friends and supervisors with whom we share so many good moments. To this now is added my second family, which is The Congo Tree, due to all the encouragement and the love they show me.

The Congo Tree has allowed me to expand my vision and see further. I realised that the situations I am going through today are lessons in good preparation for my future. It motivates me to trust myself and to work hard, and gives me new knowledge of the influence of leadership. I have realised that many young people are in peril because they do not have the opportunity to have the kind of teaching we have received or a mentor to be their support. Thanks to The Congo Tree, I am thinking about my future: to open a center which will be able to receive children and young people in difficult situations and where we can give them hope by teaching lessons such as self-knowledge, trust and teamwork.

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FR: Je suis Anne–Marie, je suis un jeune de 19 ans, je suis dans le programme CAP de Heal Africa  et depuis Avril 2018 je fais partie de l’Histoire de The Congo Tree grâce à la formation que j’ai reçu et je continue avec le programme de mentorat.

Ma plus grande réussite pendant ce quelques mois passé dans The Congo Tree  est le développement personnel de certain de mes compétences. Depuis que je suis trop petite je rêvais de servir les autres et aider les amis à aller de l’avant en sortant sans l’ignorance mais je ne savais pas comment je devais m’y prendre.

« Grace à Congo Tree, j’ai compris que j’avais des forces et capacités exceptionnelle – qu’il me manquait seulement le courage d’affronter les obstacles qui se dessinait devant moi. »

Apres ce weekend de formation, j’ai compris que je peux influencer les amis et cela pas seulement par des grandes choses même les plus petits des choses peut pousser à ces qu’il ait changement. Cette formation avec les sessions à plus travaillé sur ma tête, mes craintes se sont transformées en force et opportunité pour arriver à atteindre ma vision.

Avec tout ce que j’ai traversé ma prise de décision était toujours rapide et avec beaucoup des conséquences néfaste. J’étais colérique et je pensais que j’étais stigmatisé et négligé par les autres mas j’ai compris que tout cela se passer simplement dans ma tête et que s’était à moi de me rendre utile pour la communauté. Je compris que passer par la souffrance est une école pour grandir et pousser une personne a réfléchir comme un grand.

Ce programme est très important pour moi car cela me permet de soutenir les autres et relever leur niveau de réflexion pour aller de l’avant. L’amour et l’affection que je ne parviens pas à avoir quand je suis à la maison, je la trouve avec les amis et mon devoir est que je puisse soutenir ces autres-là qui sont dans la même situation que moi.

« Je suis mentee dans le programme mais dans la communauté je suis Mentor pour beaucoup car beaucoup des personnes de mon âgée veulent à ce que ce changement subit que j’ai acquérir soit aussi pour eux. »

Pour arriver à un changement c’est pas toujours facile mais je me force et avec les leçons comme la résolution des problèmes, la confiance et l’influence, cela me permette d’aller de l’avant chaque jour.

Actuellement je sens que j’ai le soutiens de la communauté qui m’encourage et me permet d’aller de l’avant. Le programme Cap de Heal Africa est pour moi un grand soutien avec tout les amis et encadreurs avec qui nous passons de bon moment. A cela s’ajoute ma deuxième famille qui est Congo Tree pour l’encouragement et l’amour qu’ils me montrent.

The Congo Tree a permis que je puissions agrandir ma vision et voir loin. Je compris que la situation que je traverse aujourd’hui est une leçon pour bien préparer mon avenir. Cela me pousse à avoir confiance en moi et a travailler dur en créant des nouvelles connaissances par l’influence du leadership. Je compris que beaucoup des jeunes sont dans la perdition car n’ont pas cet opportunité d’avoir des enseignement comme ceux  dont nous avons reçu et même avoir une personne mentor qui sera comme ton soutien. Grace à The Congo Tree, je pense ouvrir un Centre dans l’avenir, qui pourra recevoir des enfants et jeunes en situation difficile et où on pourra leurs donner espoirs en enseignant des leçons comme la connaissance de soi , la confiance, le travail en équipe.

Focus on: Rutshuru

What’s the story in Rutshuru?

Rutshuru is a territory in the province of North Kivu, in DRC. It shares borders with Rwanda and Uganda, and includes a large portion of the Virunga National Park.

Ethnically, Rutshuru has over 800,000 inhabitants from many tribal backgrounds: mainly Hutu followed by Nande, Hunde, Tutsi and Pygmée. Since 1993, Rutshuru has been ravaged by inter-ethnic wars, causing thousands of some tribes to be expelled from the region. In 1994, Rutshuru became an open door to thousands of Rwandan refugees, fleeing from the Rwandan Genocide. From there, the 1996 First Freedom War caused unbearable damage, including the death of thousands of these Kinyarwandan people by armed groups from Rwanda, Uganda, Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. The formation of the CNDP armed group in 2006 had a high proportion of Hutus from Rutshuru, a movement which has made other ethnic groups, such as the Nande, create their own armed resistance groups in response. The creation of the infamous armed group M23 in 2012 also had its roots in Rutshuru (most of the members having previously been part of the CNDP), having serious implications on the lives of the population living there until their surrender to government forces in 2013. Peace was short-lived and from 2016 to the present day, Rutshuru still faces interethnic tensions between different tribal groups, leading to the displacement of the civil population.

These events have had huge impact on the population of Rutshuru, with large numbers of children groomed forced to join military or armed rebel groups, a huge increase in the number of orphaned or abandoned children due to conflict, illness or displacement of families, and has led to mass unemployment along with damage to the economy. Although many Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have established themselves in Rutshuru, they only intervene in emergency situations and not in community development, which in turn means the population is entirely dependent on the organisations and unable to move forward independently. After so many wars, the people of Rutshuru have found themselves unemployed, without access to education or the necessary social and economic opportunities. 

img_0334The people of Rutshuru are trying to get on with life and to make the most of what they have. When we visited in April 2018, we met with the local authorities and were shown around their brand new youth training centre (funded by NGOs) which has already started enrolling young people. We visited the football field, which is still used despite the football stands being destroyed during fighting – they are now trying to rebuild. We visited their tiny public library and heard of their hopes to teach reading and to show educational films.

 

What about the young people?

The young people have been subject to the conflict, often having to abandon school to work in their family fields to support food production for the home. Where conflict has hit their villages directly, many young people have had to quickly flee and live displaced from their homes, many losing family members in the process. Some young people have sadly taken part in the conflict by enrolling into armed groups, whether by choice or through force: a considerable amount of the general workforce who were there to invest and develop the territory of Rutshuru were enlisted in armed groups during the most recent conflicts. With all this going on, there was just a small voice rallying for peace: some young people began to communicate about the benefits of and need for peace but, facing pockets of resistance from those engrained in conflict, and lacking the drive or leadership of someone who could supervise their development, that voice remained quiet.

From numerous visits to Rutshuru and time spent with the local authorities and young people there, it became clear that the young people needed access to good leadership and entrepreneurial training. There are also huge barriers to overcome around working together in teams with others that they don’t know or who are from other backgrounds, due to the history or ethnic conflict. There is a distinct lack of vision or hope for a better life and, above all, a noticeable lack of self-confidence caused by years of living for survival with little-to-no individual awareness of skills and opportunities to do things differently.

How is The Congo Tree making an impact?

We know that young people can be the best drivers for change. To be this, we know that young people need to have a love for where they live and the people they live alongside, a hope that things can be better, and the skills and knowledge to make it happen. A changing outlook will lead to their participation in the process of stabilisation and governing at all levels. However, in order for this to take root, there needs to something to inspire an understanding of positive leadership and to equip young people with the knowledge of their entrepreneurial and personal skills. A leadership programme is extremely important for young people in Rutshuru to support them as they journey through the process of changing mentality and seeing how they can drive for change, create opportunities and strive for peace. This is where the WYLD programme and The Congo Tree comes in.

We began our first WYLD programme in Rutshuru in November 2018! We believe that, thorough the WYLD programme in Rutshuru, the youth will become more self-aware, will develop confidence in their strengths whilst developing new skills, and will begin to trust one another as they are challenged to work together. Through their social action and enterprise projects, they will be able to start working on the development of their territory and will model a new way of working with others. If the young people can share their changing worldview with others in this way, we know they will be on the journey to seeing positive change in the whole community.

Focus on a Leader Mentor: Francine

Recently, our team met up with Francine, who is a Leader Mentor and Facilitator with us in Masisi, DRC.

Francine is a truly inspirational young woman. We first met her in November 2017, when she applied for our WYLD programme. In the months since, she has developed her skills, discovered a passion for seeing positive change and is now a powerful force for good in her community. This is recognised even beyond those of us who are close to Francine: earlier this year, she was invited to work for the local authorities in Masisi territory to support young people and community development. We asked her if she’d mind telling her story in her own words, and this is what she shared with us…

I am Francine, a young woman from Masisi, DRC. I am 26 years old and I have lived with my family in Masisi Centre since I was born. I am a Christian and I love God. I finished high school and got my secondary diploma.

I heard about The Congo Tree in October 2017, through the talk of some friends here in Masisi. They explained to me the different activities that are done by The Congo Tree. I was inspired by what I heard about the way they do things, how they supported the solving of problems in the community, and how they positively influenced others by seeking sustainable development in community life. I was fortunate that, in November 2017, I was given a chance to be part of this great family of The Congo Tree and I myself experienced how to develop my personal skills.

Before starting my training with The Congo Tree, I was a girl who did not have any trust or confidence in myself, nor others. Given the overwhelming narrative in our community that says that a woman is a weak and helpless being, I felt I could not do anything; that I just had to stay in the kitchen and watch the children. I was completely indoctrinated by this way of thinking: I believed that I had no strengths and that boys were the only ones capable of anything. The question of gender is really a big challenge in my community here in Masisi. This way of thinking prevented me from knowing my own skills personally, but also the community could not benefit from how my abilities and skills could help solve some of the problems in the community. I found it impossible to communicate my thoughts with others or even speak publicly; I felt myself close in upon myself to the point where I could not even have good ideas for others. I was not allowed to flourish or even to know what others thought about my opinions.

Thanks to The Congo Tree and the practical training I undertook, I discovered that I had skills and began to know who I was. Through listening to the colleagues that I trained with and by sharing our different experiences, I have realised that I can and must start today and not wait until tomorrow: I now understand that having influence or being a leader is not contingent on gender but on the actions that we can each make in the community: even small actions can have great influence and bring about a big change.

Very soon after my initial training with The Congo Tree, I rebelled [against the narrative I had grown up with] and decided that I must be an actor of social change. I started to put into action several activities that would allow the youth in my village to flourish. This is how the state authorities, through the division of social affairs, became aware of me and the skills I have to work for the good of the community. At the moment, I work in the social affairs division and I feel very fulfilled because I now work for the good of the community, in an official capacity.

I say a big thank you to The Congo Tree because I know that, today, I am competent in what I do thanks to them. The Congo Tree has awakened a desire in me to always dream big and work hard to achieve my vision. And now I’m also part of the team of facilitators in Masisi and it allows me to always be in contact with young people and to record the many examples of good leadership and development that I see. I remain completely committed to social action because I am going to be part of bringing solutions to my community by reducing the poverty rate.

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Picture: Francine with the Young Leader she mentors

I really like being a Mentor. It helps me to understand my influence on others; after having discovered my own skills, I must now transmit this learning to my Mentee [and support her to do the same]. At the level of our community, seeing two villages speak is not always a good thing, but when the two of us talk, we speak of development, of change, of an increase of our capacities. In the few months since our mentoring relationship began, my mentee has changed a lot. She now understands her true place and value, and she is no longer restricted by the views [of us, as girls] of the community and our culture. We have set goals together that we are working on and we hope to reach them by the end of this mentoring programme. My mentee and myself currently work together once a month to inform other girls too, so that together we can break the prejudices of the community. I believe in her and her competence; I know that she will go far with her dreams because she works hard to achieve it.

For all the other young people [in my community], I am going to strive to make them aware of who they are: to help them understand that they are the authors of change in our area, an area that arises so very recently from war. With the Congo Tree, we must accompany these young people in their actions so that we can awaken in them the concern to always be better than today.


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Picture: Francine and our team of Facilitators in Masisi.

 

‘Courage’: An Encouragement from DRC, by Anna

I’m sitting on the floor of my friend’s living room. My rucksack is packed. I’m ready to go. My head is swimming with the briefing information Heidi gave me last night. A wave of nausea washes over me. Its four hours until my flight leaves and my visa still hasn’t arrived. I cannot leave without it.

It had taken a considerable amount of time and patience to get to this point. Originally I had planned to visit the DRC Congo Tree team in the summer of 2017, but continual delays with my visa application meant that when it was finally granted I was unable to go. Nonetheless we persevered. But even with all of the planning, here I was: still visa-less and uncertain.

Faith and perseverance in the face of uncertainty can be tough. Those same feelings of anxiety and nausea returned when we climbed Mount Nyiragongo ten days later as a team. It was only with the support and encouragement of the DRC team (and the help of some fantastic porters) that I managed to make it through this gruelling, but spectacular, self-inflicted agony.

Courage, Anna,’ Professeur Sage would say to me. ‘Courage’.

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Photos left to right: ‘Professeur’ Sage, Liz and Armel from the DRC Team on top of the volcano; Anna by the crater; View over North Kivu from the volcano.

There were a number of occasions throughout my trip when I was struck by how small and insignificant my own personal battles seemed. The personal, social and political battles the people of the Congo survive and thrive in on a daily basis really put things into perspective.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I crossed the border from Rwanda to the DRC. The taxi ride from Kigali to the border was incredible.  Misty mountains clothed in terraces of banana trees and coffee.  Everyone was walking everywhere. It took a while for it to sink in that I was finally here.

The Congo is one of the most beautiful countries I have been to. I have been sitting here for a while trying to think how I could best describe it to you. Safe to say all of my words sound empty and meaningless. I’d rather rely on this stunning photo I took over Lake Kivu and encourage you to go google it for yourself.

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Photo: View over Lake Kivu from Goma

The conflict is real. There are reminders of it daily. Roadblocks, military personnel, compounds, guards, guns. I have learnt to always have a driver you can trust and one who has eagle eyes. Laugh lots. Come with a generous spirit.

I went to the Congo to train the Congo Tree facilitators in the Tree of Life approach. The Tree of Life enables people to talk about their lives in a way that makes them stronger. Developed in a partnership between Nzcelo Ncube of REPSSI and David Denborough of the Dulwich Centre Foundation to support survivors of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, it has been so successful it is now used with children, young people and adults throughout the world. I encountered the Tree of Life in my first training placement in East London. Its simplicity and beauty is striking; its ability to uplift and encourage, unending.

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Photos: Tree of Life Facilitator Training, Goma, April 2018

One of the most exciting and encouraging aspects of my trip was having the privilege of sharing this approach with the facilitators and seeing how seamlessly it slotted into their own understandings, approaches and plans for the future. The Congo Tree has an amazing team of facilitators, 17 of whom are now trained to facilitate Tree of Life. Since I visited in April 2018, the DRC team have run Tree of Life with 2 groups – a total of 44 young leaders – and are currently exploring how they can best incorporate it into all of their WYLD programmes. I feel blessed to have been even just a small part of this.


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Photo: Tree of Life Facilitators

And so I end with an encouragement to you all: follow the sage advice of Professeur Sage. Have some courage in even one small part of your life. Do something you have been thinking about doing for a while. Take even the smallest small step of faith. It is a dangerous thing to go out of your door, but you do never know where it may take you!

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Photo left: Anna visits Complexe Scholaire Esperance (Hope School) with Rally International in Mugunga.                                                  Photo right: Anna, Heidi and Michelle (Rally International) on a field trip to meet with potential partners in Sake and Bweremana.

 

Creative Enterprise: Flour and Coal in Masisi

Masisi is an area in the east of the DRC, in the North Kivu province. It is an area that is known as much for it’s rolling hills and fertile soil as the violence and continued conflict in the area, which has had a hugely negative impact on the local communities and has kept people in both poverty and fear. Many from the community have been lost in the violence or to illnesses that come with this level of poverty. Men that survive often travel far from home in the hope of finding work. This has left many widows and vulnerable families trying to survive, and there are little to no opportunities for young people for personal development and work. Despite all this, we have seen many young leaders striving to revive hope in their community and step up as local leaders.

 

You might remember the fish pond project that was set up by our first WYLD Project in Masisi in 2015, to provide a food source to the community and fund schooling for the 4 young leaders running it: a project that was even more successful than we had expected! So we were hugely excited for the launch of 2 new projects set up by the young leaders from our current WYLD Programme in Masisi at the beginning of the year, and we have been really encouraged to hear of the impact so far…

     The Flour Project

screen-shot-2018-04-09-at-11-33-32The aim of this project was to support vulnerable mothers who sell flour made from cereal grains (corn, rice or maize), and in turn support the families that they are providing for. Each mother was given a small grant to expand their business. The project also gave information to local nurses dealing with malnutrition so that they could educate women about the health benefits of these types of flour.

screen-shot-2018-04-09-at-11-33-43The project started by choosing 3 mothers, all of whom were widowed and had a number of children dependent on them. Each mother was given $30 each and they could decide what to use this money for; whether more or better quality stock, or travel to a better sales location. Each week, a small amount was to be paid back to the young leaders until the $30 had been repaid – this meant that most of the ladies could repay the loan in around 3 months. The mothers could then keep all of the profits she made to support her family and the $30 that was collected from repayments could be given as a new microloan to another mother.

One beneficiary, Maman Sylvie, said: We are truly grateful to these young people who have thought of us and brought us this money in order to grow our business and support our families’ needs. We don’t want to be women who wait for help from NGO’s but we want to be get started on our own activities to prove we are capable and to move forward. Thank you for the leader of these young leaders and may you continue to do more.”

     Bahati’s Story

bahati2Bahati is one of the beneficiaries of the flour project. A widow and mother of 9 children, Bahati is in the process of establishing her enterprise so that she can provide food and pay for schooling for her children. Before Bahati was in touch with The Congo Tree, she was struggling because she had no support to help her take care of her family.

With only a small amount of $30, Bahati has now transformed her activities of selling soya sorghum flour. Each week since her loan, she has successfully repaid $1 to the team of young leaders; she has only has 2 further payments to make to finished repaying her grant, and then she will be entirely autonomous to create her own funds.

In fact, Bahati no longer sells just flour, but she has successfully opened a little shop where she has begun to sell other things as well!

Bahati told us, “I am very proud to belong to such a big family of young people, despite being 43 years old. These young people are a role model to our community in Masisi because they have found solutions amongst themselves for serious community issues. For me, they responded to my needs to have my own enterprise.

I am also very proud to see that, despite everything we see in our area, there are young people who can deal with tribal conflicts and make one of the biggest problems in the area, poverty, a priority to resolve. Being a small place, I know that unity with one another will help us to combat poverty in Masisi. Group action unites us and makes us stronger.

I am very grateful to the organisation which has trained these young people because we are the direct fruit from their efforts and of the impact of the successfulness of the training. If only this could be taught throughout Masisi, we would have a strong generation of influential young people with the knowledge and wisdom to take charge of the different problems. Being an adult we are becoming old and frail, but if the young people are equipped to be capable of finding solutions, we will have huge success, which is what we are currently seeing with this group of young people. Once again, thank you for your work.”

bahiti

     The Coal Project

coal-1coal-2In much the same way as the flour project, the coal project, is aiming to establish self-sustaining work for vulnerable widows by giving them microloans.  The project began by choosing 5 women to receive $20 each. Each recipient must pay back 7% of their total income for a year, at which point they will be able to support themselves and be independent in their coal-selling business, whilst the money they have repaid can then be used to provide new microloans to more widows.