Andrew Wester is a general intern with Samaritan’s Purse in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Eastern Congo is an area heavily afflicted by rebel groups. With these rebels comes conflict, and with conflict comes refugees fleeing from the areas of violence.
This past December, Samaritan’s Purse intervened into one of these conflict zones near a village called Komanda. We stepped in to help the refugees who had gathered in the surrounding villages by hosting a fair for non-food items. The fair provided people with the opportunity to receive cooking utensils, blankets, tarps, etc.
A fair, in the non-governmental organization world, is essentially a market. Samaritan’s Purse gathers surveys on the displaced people, seeing who they are and what they need. They then gather a group of vendors that offer the goods that are needed. These two groups are then gathered together (usually in an open space, like a soccer field).
The refugees are given coupons with a monetary value and allowed to choose what products they need. The vendors in turn collect these coupons instead of money and then cash them in with Samaritan’s Purse when the fair is complete. This process helps stimulate the local economy while giving displaced people the freedom of choosing what they need instead of receiving items that might not be necessary.
I, along with a team of eight others, drove to Komanda this past week so we could see what impact the fair had on both beneficiaries and vendors. It’s only 46 miles from the Samaritan’s Purse base in Bunia, but the drive there often takes more than two hours due to the conditions of the roads. Nine people piled into a seven-passenger Toyota Prado are not conducive to the comfort of the ride in any way. Nonetheless, we made it safely and without any problems.
We spent several days interviewing people who had attended the fair in December to see how their lives had been impacted. We met Jauvé Avesi, who has been displaced since early September. She, along with her husband and four children, was forced to flee her home suddenly as rebels came into her village. They walked on foot for almost 62 miles to reach Komanda.
They arrived with nothing but the clothing on their backs. An Anglican church let them stay in its school classrooms for a month until they were able to build temporary shelters on the church’s land. They live on a day-to-day basis, dependent on finding day jobs to pay for their food. Without their own gardens to tend or a steady job, it’s a difficult situation.
The children are able to go to school because another organization has been helping them. Samaritan’s Purse helped the family by providing essentials such as clothing, bedding, and roofing. She is grateful for the assistance and for the work that we are doing. She hopes to return home one day but does not want to risk putting her family in danger. They are waiting for the fighting to calm down.
It was hard to see people living in those situations, knowing that they could always use more. However, it was also encouraging to see how the people in Komanda benefited from the work of Samaritan’s Purse in visible and tangible ways. The people sincerely appreciated the help given them.