Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An aid worker’s diary: Returning to Goma

An aid worker’s diary: Returning to Goma

Aimee Manimani
goma getty 300x225 An aid workers diary: Returning to Goma
Thousands of Congolese people flee the town of Sake, 26km west of Goma, following fresh fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (Getty Images)
During the recent conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was evacuated along with other World Vision colleagues to Gisenyi, Rwanda a town just two kilometers across the border. We were later allowed to return to Goma to provide first aid to civilians who had been displaced. M23 rebels were in charge of the city and thousands of people lost their homes and sense of stability.
The rebels later retreated and let the government administration return. I was devastated by what I found when I returned home – the casualties, injuries, stories of rape, assaults, looting and damage that occurred during the fighting. In that very short period, everything in Goma turned into a military vehicle – the police cars, government houses, water trucks and anything that can be used to transport fighters to different parts of the city.
As a citizen of this country I know how long it took to the Congolese police to obtain such assets from different aid organizations and donations. These losses make me very sad. The lives of the poor have gotten worse. I see increases in hunger camps where World Vision and other organisations try to alleviate the most immediate pain.
On the first day of my return, I interviewed a 13-year-ol girl who wept into the microphone. I wept too. She had lost both parents, and had not had a meal in three days. We are currently very busy – trying to meet the needs of thousands of displaced people who live in squalid camps. World Vision has now reached 133,849 people of the 186,000 targeted for food assistance in internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps.
Twenty-eight cases of cholera have been reported in the camps west of Goma and World Vision is currently planning a water and sanitation intervention to slow the spread of the disease. An estimated 250 schools have been looted or damaged since September.
My family, who remained in Goma during the clashes, was finally able to cross the border, which gave me much confidence to know they were out of danger. They could not bear the fact that I was going back to Goma and surrounding areas during such instability. They told me not to play the hero.
Our presence in the camps is a risk. I remember the first day of our return to a camp in Sake, fighting broke out and our security personnel ordered us to leave. I was saddened to leave the camp, to avoid the risk of being caught in the middle of the fighting and at the same time, sad to leave behind 140,000 hungry men, women and children.
Now, whenever I leave my house, I wonder if my city will ever return to peace so that I do not have to fear the night. What if all the elements come together to ignite a new crisis? The M23 rebels are at just two kilometres from the city and the government is vulnerable as ever. I worry about the prisoners, including rapists and murderers, who escaped during the fighting. Where did they go? Do they now live near me or my family or my friends?
I keep praying and hoping that something positive will come out of the fragile negotiations going on in Kampala, Uganda, between representatives of the Congolese government and the M23. But for now, I have to deal with hearing the sad stories of the displaced and see the damage caused to city and the massive humanitarian needs. All these make me want to shout at the top of my voice, begging everyone involved in this crisis to stop. We need peace!
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