People sitting around a table with cards and money

Bonds formed in times of peace lead to refuge during conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo

At the village of Munigi at the foot of Mt. Nyiragongo, 10 kilometers from Goma town, 48-year-old Muhawe does the laundry. A few meters away, her seven children preoccupy themselves with playing as her mother-in-law watches on. This is not her home. Her home village is almost 8 hours away from Munigi on foot. To get there is a treacherous journey across bushes, forests, and lands blackened by volcanic ash and molten rock following the 2021 eruption of the mountain. Due to the resurgence of conflict, insecurity has increased in North Kivu. Fighting escalated and on 4th November 2022, Muhawe and her family were forced to flee from their home.

The bombs were heavy and loud when they exploded. I could not stand it because I have hypertension. My immediate instinct was to take my children and run. I left everything behind including our clothes, kitchen pots, utensils, and water containers.
Muhawe, 48-year-old mother of seven forced to flee by the escalation of conflict in the DRC

The journey to safety was very bad because we came on foot with so many people. Some children were falling on the road, getting hit by motorcycles, and dying as we watched. Cows making motorcyclists fall, you can imagine how bad the journey was”, continued Muhawe.

Since May 2022, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen increased conflict in its eastern part. On 20th October 2022 over 200,000 people were displaced from Rutshuru Territory. Thousands have had to flee from their homes and to Internally Displaced Camps in and around Goma to save their lives.

Muhawe and her family had a place to go thanks to an arrangement through AVEC, Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA), dubbed twinning. In this component of AVECs, members are connected to support each other during times of distress. When there are displacements due to natural disasters or armed conflict, VSLA members host one another, and this has developed strong kinship-like bonds among members of the different AVECs.

“Before we thought our relatives are only those by birthright but now that perspective has changed. Through the AVEC we feel related too. I know Muhawe from AVEC and that is why I hosted her at my home", said 32-year-old Agnes. She continued:

I felt the urge to help her because first, she is a human being like me, I could not sleep in the house while she is sleeping under the stars with her children, and I have a house. Since I am fortunate to have a house, I had to welcome them.
Agnes, 32-year-old VSLA participant who is hosting Muhawe
Woman standing between two children in front of other women sitting outside a house

Muhawe does the laundry as her mother-in-law, children and Agnes's children prepare lunch.

This is not the first time that Agnes has supported members from other VSLAs. In May, she hosted two members from a VSLA group and their families. During that time, she had more than 30 people in her house. When the fighting subsided, they went to their home. At the same time, Agnes has also been hosted by another family before. In 2021, when Mt. Nyiragongo erupted, she and her family had to flee from their home at night and were hosted by a member of the village saving and loan association Network (VSLAN) Saakumwe in Kibumba.

Hands holding money in the forefront and people gathered around a table in the background

An ongoing VSLA session happening in Goma, DRC

With a total of 718 AVEC groups with a total of 21,549 members, 95% of whom are women through the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Program (GEWEP), the AVEC programs are well entrenched in the community in North Kivu and continue to grow. Part of the key component of the program is Community Resilience and Crisis Management. 

We work with communities where we have AVECs to help them prepare for and manage displacement as a result of natural and man-made crises. This enables them to ensure they have a safe space they can go to as they wait for stability to return to their homelands. Twinning enables the groups to act as first aid responders and supporters of fellow members who may be affected by a disaster.
CARE International DRC Socio-Economic Strengthening Officer, Prudence Ndeze

The highest rate of food insecurity in the world

Due to constant conflict, natural disasters, and the Ukraine crisis, DRC has the highest number of food-insecure people globally. One in four people is experiencing a food crisis in the country of more than 95.9 million people. Currently, more than 1.1 million children under 5 are malnourished and the total number of people affected by food insecurity is 27 million. 

CARE International continues to support twining through the provision of cash. Funds are made available to the host families to enable them to support their families as well as the families they host. The challenge is that due to access issues, the prices of commodities continue to increase in and around Goma. Some food commodities have doubled, and others even tripled. 

The increase in the cost of living has affected Agnes, her family, and 22 other people from two families that she hosts.

Someone might think I ate, and I did not give her but sometimes I might not even have eaten. Clothing is also a challenge. Not only are our children sharing clothes, but I am also sharing clothes with Muhawe. Getting medicines for our children is also a challenge.
Agnes on the impact of the spike in prices

Even with the current support, a lot needs to be done still. Sidibe Kadidia Cisse, CARE DRC Country Director said, “Thousands, like Muhawe, fled their homes with little more than the clothes on their back, and with the onset of the rainy season, an already difficult situation is set to become even worse. There is a serious lack of food, shelter, clean water, and sanitation. Unaccompanied children and women are at increased risk of gender-based violence even more. Thus, dedicated spaces are urgently needed to ensure their safety”.

Despite all these challenges, Muhawe is grateful. “AVEC has helped me. I did not know Agnes before, but through the AVEC I know her well, and she hosted me when I did not know where to go with my family. I am not as scared as I was at home because there is no sound of guns or bombs here, we sleep quietly,” said Muhawe.

Woman washing clothes in a green bucket with clothes hanging in the background

Muhawe doing laundry at her hosts', Agnes home.

Muhawe hopes to one day return home. Vote, her 8-year-old daughter, also dreams of returning to her life as it was, “I want to return home to resume school. I want to become a teacher when I grow up,” Vote said.

For media inquiries, please contact David Mutua, Regional Communications Advisor, [email protected].