Travel Log: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Written by Plant With Purpose on September 2, 2015 in News & Events, Travel Log
In June, Program Office Christi Huizenga and Technical Director Robert Morikawa traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to sign the paperwork that officially launched Plant With Purpose’s newest country program. Below are some of her thoughts and reflections on the country, the people, and the project.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a huge country with very few roads. After traveling for 36 hours, I finally arrived in Uvira (flying from San Diego to Europe to Rwanda, followed by 6 hours on a bus and 4-5 hours in a very crowded mini-bus). All that to say, the region we’ve chosen for the pilot project is remote. Yet remote means vulnerable: vulnerable to economic pressure, environmental degradation, and potential conflict.
The DRC is recovering from an extremely tumultuous past and devastating recent history. Despite this situation, the people are beautiful. They have an undergirding joy that shines. Their isolation has allowed culture to stay intact with deep traditions surfacing through music and dance.
The people living in the Kakumba Watershed are hungry, hungry not just for food but to learn. They have not received the assistance that other NGOs or the government provides partially due to the fact that there are no passable roads. The walk to access the highlands from the low-lying communities around Lake Tanganyika takes hours. The terrain is mountainous with steep hillsides that jut right into this body of water.
Deforestation is taking place at an alarming rate with hillsides quickly becoming bare of trees, top soil, and nutrients. Cutting down trees quickly creates additional problems for these subsistence farmers. Our baseline study showed that on average 86 percent of economic activity is from farming. When enough food is produced, farmers—escorted by military guards—make the twice a week trek to Uvira to sell their goods at market.
Plant With Purpose’s program has so much to offer to these people. As we signed the final agreement and set program goals in June, we also hired program staff. These five men quickly came to a deep understanding of the program, grasping concepts much quicker than I’ve seen in other contexts. They playfully joked that in two years they’re going to outperform any of Plant With Purpose’s other programs. The team is ready to master our proven program, driven by the desire to help people out of poverty.
One of our first hires was a pastor who will lead the way in talking about God’s heart for creation as well as his heart for the people who care for the land. This conversation speaks value into the lives of these farmers providing dignity not often granted to those living off the land. The message that God cares, that he sees them, is empowering. This message brings hope.
Introducing agroecology—a diverse multicrop system of farming—will decrease risk while increasing nutrition. This system is designed to reduce shock created by disease or weather patterns. Planting leafy-greens with mid-level crops increases the likelihood of thriving crops. By growing food that families eat, their limited amount of cash can be spent on other food items or household needs.
Cash is rare and the money families do have ultimately should be saved. Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) will allow them to put their hard-earned money someplace safe. And they will now have the opportunity take a loan if they do encounter an emergency. Savings groups also help with cash flow management, allowing families to plan for larger expenses and future needs. VSLAs allow families to go from day to day survival to reaching a point of financial stability where they can start to think about investing in the future.
Through cautious interactions and strategic introductions, I am thrilled that work has begun in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As trust is built, this program—designed to help the most vulnerable—will leave a lasting legacy on the lives and land of the Kakumba Watershed and beyond.