By Cornelia Walther
DONGO, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 9 June 2011 – “Children are the first victims of this conflict. We have a shared responsibility to build a better future worthy of them,” said UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi on a visit to Dongo in north-western Equateur province this week.
During the trip, Ms. Vu Thi and the Minister of Social Affairs, Humanitarian Action and National Solidarity, Ferdinand Kambere, saw first-hand the effects of violence and ensuing displacement.
Effects of conflict
Sporadic outbreaks of conflict and the displacement of tens of thousands of people from Dongo have had a debilitating effect. Many have left for neighbouring Republic of Congo. Others have lost their lives, their families and their property.
“My husband and daughter were killed when our village was attacked. Now I am back home, but our house is occupied by military. I live with relatives, but this is no solution,” said Marie. She is struggling to rebuild her life. “I have only my son left. But if he can get a good education I am happy.”
In this difficult context, the Government of DR Congo and partners are initiating a process of reconciliation in Dongo and elsewhere. Core components are the sensitization of communities for peace and the rehabilitation of social services.
“This city illustrates the negative impact of violence as much as the communities’ potential for recovery,” said Mr. Kambere. “Close coordination of local and international actors is required to build a prosperous future for all families in Dongo.”
To help make this happen, UNICEF, UN agency partners and civil society are pursuing a multi-faceted approach that stresses action that is efficient and complementary.
The shared aim is to facilitate the return of displaced families to a normal life in their areas of origin. “Today humanitarian assistance has achieved its objective of live-saving assistance,” said Ms. Vu Thi. “Now we must aim for rehabilitation, to consolidate peace in a long term perspective.”
For example, a new school inaugurated by Ms. Vu Thi and Mr. Kambere this week was financed by the Central Emergency Response Fund, built by UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration, and will receive school meals from the World Food Programme.
Following the destruction of dozens of schools in the territory of Kungu, only 56 per cent of the 41,600 primary school-aged children are enrolled. “Education is vital for sustainable reconciliation. The children of today are the peace-keepers of tomorrow,” said Quentin Levet, Chief of UNICEF Field Operations in western DR Congo.
Giving youth a voice
Another illustration of complementary action is the forthcoming opening of a community radio by UNICEF partner ‘Search for Common Ground’. It will foster direct participation of young people in the reconstruction process, by training them in journalistic skills and providing the opportunity to make their voices heard.