When the armed militia suddenly appeared in the village and started shooting, Maesha Ngendo and her family fled for their lives. Their house with all the family’s possessions was burned down, so now they live instead with a host family. The family has received support to buy new clothes and kitchen equipment through a voucher system where they get to decide which products they really want and need.
Maesha Ngendo sits in the yard outside the house in Hombo where she and her family have lived for the past three months. The host family who accommodated Maesha Ngendo’s family when they arrived here after their escape from the armed militia live close by.
Life as an internally displaced person is difficult, but Maesha Ngendo is still positive.
“I'm happy for the support we received from both the host family and from the organisations, otherwise we would never have managed by ourselves,” she says.
Hombo is located on the border between the provinces of North and South Kivu and is an extremely poor area of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In only a few days some 20,000 exhausted and destitute internally displaced persons fled after their villages were attacked.
“We were at home in our house when the shooting started from the west and we took the children and just ran,” says Maesha Ngendo.
“There have been so many attacks that I no longer remember the number of times we have been forced to flee.
Maesha Ngendo’s family consists of her husband Kabeya Ntambwoe, the children Mojinga, 7, Alain, 5, and Salome 1.5 years as well as her father-in-law and sister-in-law. All of them now live in Hombo.
“The fighting continued and they burned down our house so we cannot return home,” says Maesha Ngendo with sadness in her voice.
Like many of those who escaped, they have received shelter from one of the 4 700 host families in Hombo. The large number of refugees has resulted in a strained situation in a community where the majority are already extremely poor.
Hombo is isolated and communications are inadequate. Opportunities to work are few and far between and many find it difficult to get money for food.
“Here we have no land of our own to farm, but I try to work in the fields every day; I’m paid $2 a day, but the money is not enough,” says Maesha Ngendo.
Her husband suffers from poor health, but he still tries to find work to contribute to the family purse. Sometimes he gets a day’s work cutting down palms for the extraction of palm oil.
Once the refugees’ plight became known, UN children's fund UNICEF travelled to Hombo and assessed the needs of the IDP population and those of the host families. The families were also registered and it was found that more than 65 per cent of the children suffered from diarrhoea. Only one per cent had access to latrines, which might result in a cholera outbreak, 34 per cent had access to soap, no children attended school, only a few children were vaccinated against measles and a large number of the children suffered from malnutrition. Once these different factors had been weighed up and the results assessed, it was concluded that the need for aid was of the highest priority.
The group of aid donors, which included Sweden, quickly decided to provide a variety of aid: for a medical clinic to provide free medical care and medicines, a school for the children and a voucher system for the refugees so they could obtain basic necessities. In addition, UNICEF staff travelled to the villages with mobile healthcare clinics and vaccinated the children.
“Once we had registered they gave us vouchers to exchange for fabrics and footwear. We also received plates, bowls and clothing for the vouchers. We could also get corn, cassava, rice, cooking oil and beans,” adds Maesha Ngendo.
She is cooking maize porridge with some of the utensils she had picked out at a market a few weekends ago.
“The goods we got with the vouchers help me to fetch water, buy and cook food and buy clothes and shoes for the children,” says the 27-year-old Maesha Ngendo.
In situations like this, the donors usually purchase large quantities of various goods to distribute, but the idea of the voucher system means that the same things are not handed out to everyone, but each family receives a voucher worth $75 to be able to make purchases themselves of clothing, shoes, utensils and other things for the household. At the same time, in order to strengthen the local market, UNICEF invited in local traders to a market that was held on two occasions and where the internally displaced population could buy what they needed. They came virtually to a man.
It was important for us, we came here completely empty-handed, but now we can cook when we want without asking to borrow pots and bowls from our host family,” says Maesha Ngendo.
With a school the future becomes brighter
Schooling is an important issue for the internally displaced; the children need to go to school and receive a good education, both for their own sake but also as it helps the parents to a better life.
The small house that Maesha Ngendo and her family borrow is situated very close to the school. A new term starts soon and the donor group has contributed to the school's new roof while brick walls will be constructed to keep the approaching rain out.
Maesha Ngendo’s daughter is one of the new students who will attend school in the autumn.
“My daughter Mojinga is seven years old, but the fighting put an end to her education.
Life today is all about having a good education, and a child who has attended school can help you in so many different ways. I had to drop out of school early because we could not afford the school fees”.