How Therese helps prevent diseases in Congo

Oxfam
22 June 2018
Therese lives in the Kalunga refugee camp with her 9 children aged from 7 to 17 years. Together with Oxfam, she helps preventing diseases in the camp. The new Ebola outbreak in Congo shows that her work is more vital than ever.

Ebola is all too familiar in Congo, as it is not the first time that the deadly virus has occurred in the country. For the time being, the new outbreak is limited to a few regions and can therefore be closely monitored.

 

Ebola on top of famine and violence

But the Ebola virus poses an additional threat to communities that were already vulnerable, such as refugees. Violence in Congo has been going on for some time now: between the Bantu and Twa population groups, and between armed groups in the province of Tanganyika in south-east Congo. More than 654,000 people have had to flee their homes. The food shortage is increasing, putting thousands of families at risk.

Therese is one of the people who was forced to flee from violence. She ended up in Kalunga, where she followed a training at Oxfam to become a hygiene promoter. Now she cleans the sanitary facilities in the camp every day and distributes water purification tablets to families, assuring them of clean water.

Since it started working in Tanganyika in 2017, Oxfam has already helped 58,302 people: both refugees and the people who receive them in their own communities. Apart from providing clean water and sanitation, we  work with local volunteers, who inform people about the importance of good hygiene for their own health.

Woman next to a water pump in a refugee camp
© Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi/Oxfam

Good hygiene = preventing diseases

Since it started working in Tanganyika in 2017, Oxfam has already helped 58,302 people: both refugees and the people who receive them in their own communities. Apart from providing clean water and sanitation, we  work with local volunteers, who inform people about the importance of good hygiene for their own health.

 

"I lost everything"

Therese has been living in the Kalunga refugee camp since November 2016, after her village was attacked. At the time of the attack, her husband and one of her children were absent. "We fled immediately," says Therese. "There was no time to pack. The only thing I could do was take my children and run”.

After the attack, Therese went in search of her husband and missing child, but could not find them. Three months later she was told that their bodies had been found. "I had already experienced war in my life, but I had never been forced to leave my home and live in a refugee camp. I had never seen such violence before.”

"We had been walking for two days before arriving here. My mind was filled with thoughts. I had lost everything. Sometimes I wish I were dead instead of my husband, because this burden is too heavy for me to carry. I still have 9 children. One of them is paralyzed, so I had to carry her all the way.”

"We arrived here last November and were well received. The first two months, we got food and some money to buy other stuff. But how can you raise 9 children in these circumstances?”

A small street in a refugee camp with people on the move
© Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi/Oxfam

The first victims: women, children and elderly people

"I never thought I would end up here," Therese continues. "My plan was to save money for a house where we would live a comfortable and normal life as a family. Now I can't even think of tomorrow. How can I think of good education for my children if I don't even know what their next meal will be?”

Women, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to this situation in Congo. They have seen their families being murdered, their villages burned down and/or their fields destroyed. The situation in the country remains uncertain and violence can erupt at any moment. The Congolese who are fleeing (in their own country) cannot return home or rebuild their lives.

"The people here want to return when the conflicts are over," says Therese. "Others have already returned to see what remained of their fields and other possessions”.

 

With water we can save lives

Water and hygiene are essential for survival. That is why Oxfam provides water on a large scale and good sanitary facilities in emergency situations. That way, diseases are prevented as much as possible.

We also give people essential information about good hygiene. In the Kalunga refugee camp, Oxfam has now trained 61 women to be hygiene promotors, and they spread their knowledge within the community.

What’s happening in Congo?

 

In Congo, millions of people have had to flee due to protracted conflicts in the provinces of Kasai, Tanganyika, Ituri and Kivu. 13 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

Oxfam helps the people in Congo both in the short and the long term. For example, we supply drinking water and sanitary facilities to 400,000 people. We also distribute cash to the most vulnerable families. However, the situation remains highly critical. Besides, the risk of a new Ebola outbreak is very worrying.

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