I will never in my entire life forget this man. I met him in the community of Kintolo, Maniema Province, DRC. Kintolo is one of the villages where Christian Aid and our local partner BDD are currently implementing an emergency intervention to help people who have been displaced by conflict, as well as local families who are feeling the pressure of so many new families in their midst.
He joined us at a meeting with community elders and members of the village, as well as project beneficiaries. Just before he arrived, we had been talking about how the project had succeeded in helping families with access to a small plot of land restart their income generation activities. Some families had brought some of the seed stock along which they have been able to save from their harvest and intend to use for planting during the next agricultural season. The jar of peanuts was an example of that seed stock—an investment for the future.
We had then moved on to discussing how families are struggling to retain this stock of seeds. This is because since the start of the project, so many newly displaced families have arrived in Kintolo village and in other communities where the project is operating, fleeing conflict in their communities of origin without being able to take anything with them. When they arrive they have literally nothing: no food, no utensils for cooking, sometimes not even appropriate clothing. All of them are traumatised, some of the women have been raped; many have seen relatives or friends killed, injured or running for their lives. Local families—out of love for their neighbours and according to Congolese customary hospitality—open their homes to them and share what they have with them. The pressure on them becomes tremendous –and so it is likely that these precious seed stocks will become depleted as their owners share them with hungry men, women, boys and girls who have no food to eat.
The very need for this was demonstrated by this man. He joined the meeting halfway through, together with many other individuals who are not, at present, receiving any humanitarian assistance. When he saw the jar of peanuts on the table, he walked up to it and just started eating. Not just snacking-like we would at a party, with a delicious cocktail in our hands and perhaps music blasting out in the background. Eating out of hunger, because he had nothing else to eat.
Our project is making a difference but the needs are so much greater than what we can deliver. So many humanitarian actors have withdrawn from Maniema Province, despite acute food emergencies and ongoing need for livelihoods support, rehabilitation of water sources and access to essential services. We are looking for more funding but there are so many needs worldwide that this is currently proving difficult……in the meantime, people like this man will depend on the goodwill of other community members, who have so little themselves, for his survival.
But does this mean the communities are unhappy, feel no joy in their lives? Not in the slightest. After this meeting, having discussed dire need of local people and laugh-crying about the man who took the peanuts, the community gave me a chicken as a gift and we all ended up dancing together.
I pray that I will remember these people, their resilience and joie de vivre next time I grumble about some small thing in my privileged life.