The Story of LUHONGA Community
Goma is located in North-Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), bordering Rwanda. Goma is an area characterised by instability where rebel groups have consistently launched attacks. It’s recent history has been dominated by the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the aftermath of which saw a huge number of people fleeing into DRC and settling, as well as the environmental destruction caused by an active volcano, Nyiragongo.
The majority of the people living in and around Goma are refugees from other villages who fled the ongoing armed conflict. Food security is a daily battle, made worse by recent drought and food price spikes in East Africa. Families traditionally fed themselves by growing food in this region. However, families living as refugees have no access to land, and when fields are planted informally by families, the harvests are regularly raided by rebels in the region. A large portion of the land, normally used for agriculture, is unable to be used because of frequent volcanic activity. The gases released from the volcano are filled with unhealthy toxins, resulting in a growing number of illnesses. It is in this region where the community of Luhonga lies.
Children currently supported: 70
Coordinator name: Mama charlotte
Distance from Likasi Local Office: 1700 kM
Basic Services Started: 2016
Luhonga is a rural village approximately two hours outside Goma in mineral-rich Masisi territory. Luhonga is, in essence, an informal refugee camp. Hands at Work is caring for 70 children in the village of Luhonga, though there are still many children in this area who are in desperate need of support. In Luhonga Community, many children suffer and die from preventable diseases, like malnutrition and malaria. The nearest clinic exists near Goma, but this is a long walk from Luhonga, about two hours through the mountains along a dangerous road. The long walk and high clinic fees make accessing medical care for the most vulnerable extremely challenging. Thankfully, there is a nurse at the clinic named Precious* who has a heart of compassion. She is passionate about caring for the most vulnerable children and often travels the long distance to Luhonga to visit the patients.
There is little to no employment options in Luhonga which results in women walking high into the mountains to find wood to sell in the local market. But journeys like these are extremely dangerous for women and children. There is a high rate of child labour, which can be seen everywhere in and around Luhonga, and children work extremely hard just to survive.
Women are often exposed to abuse by either the rebel forces or government soldiers. The World Health Organisation states that “sexual violence against women and girls continues to be used as one tactical element of warfare by most of the armed parties involved in the conflict.” Additionally, they found that “women that have been raped also suffer from several forms of social exclusion. Many women are rejected by or prevented from returning to their families, and are very likely to end up at a very low socio-economic status, lacking financial support with few income-generation opportunities. Children of rape victims are often rejected, neglected or stigmatized too.”
According to UNICEF, since 1996, sexual violence against women and children in the eastern part of the DRC has been used to torture and humiliate women and girls and destroy families. Margot Wallstrom, the UN's special representative on sexual violence in conflict, says that the DRC is "the rape capital of the world.”
When local African volunteers were walking to visit a grandmother on a Holy Home Visit in Luhonga Community, a young girl who had previously been seen at the feeding point was seen watching them from a distance. She was one of the children who did not receive food, but came every day with the hopes of being given any leftovers. It was clear that she was extremely vulnerable and in need of care and attention. The girl’s name is Sarah*, and she is 14 years old. When she was identified as the most vulnerable, she had already been suffering with malaria for three weeks and had not eaten for days. Sarah’s story was a familiar one: her mother had died when she was young, and her father had remarried, having more children with his second wife. It was clear that Sarah was not loved or cared for. Sarah was one of ten siblings, but was the only child who had survived. She was brought to the clinic who kept her for three days to help her to recover. The whole village in Luhonga watched this story unfold and it became a beacon of hope for the local volunteer Care Workers.
Previously, the land that was used as a Care Point was not a long-term solution, especially with the heavy rains; the children did not have a sheltered place to gather under to eat. There was also no toilet at the Care Point. In 2016, a local site was donated to Hands at Work for use as the Care Point which was completely empty. The local Hands at Work team built a perimeter fence, which, although basic, allows the property boundary to be enforced and the contents on-site to be hidden and guarded. A lockable toilet was constructed which ensures that the children have access to a hygienic and clean toilet when they come to the Care Point every day. The chief in the community of Luhonga gave the Care Workers a secure brick room next to his office where they can lock the food, ensuring that it does not get stolen. In addition to storing and cooking daily meals for the most vulnerable local children, this property is also standing as the first basic education site in the community. Most children lived previously in refugee camps where they had no access to education. The site allows the local Care Workers to prepare the children with basic education interventions to grow them to a point to become ‘school-ready’. As the Care Point has developed, it has become an amazing safe haven for the most vulnerable children in the midst of oppression. Hands at Work was able to support the Care Workers with seeds and fertiliser to help them grow their own food as they serve as volunteers despite their own vulnerability.
The Care Workers in Luhonga are growing under Hands at Work’s local leadership, not only in their understanding of Jesus and the Bible, but practically in how they care for the most vulnerable children in their communities. As they learn about the processes involved in food purchases, health care facilitation, home repairs and education needs, they are strengthening their unity with one another and able to go deeper in caring for the children.
When Annie* was just two years old her father passed away, leaving her and her siblings in the care of their mother. Just two short years later, Annie’s mother also died. Annie and one of her brothers, Mathew*, were taken in by their uncle who lived in Luhonga. Annie’s uncle had more than one family and would often leave the home for long periods of time. Annie’s aunt, however, was not only present but compassionate towards Annie and Mathew and did her best to care for their emotional and physical needs, even though it was challenging to have two additional family members to care for.
In 2015, volunteer Care Workers invited the children to attend the Care Point. When Annie’s aunt became ill and passed away, the care of the Care Workers would soon be needed on a deeply emotional level, too. For the third time in just 14 years, Annie experienced the deep grief and trauma of losing a parent. But this time, Annie was not alone in dealing with her pain. The Luhonga Care Workers stood faithfully alongside Annie to ensure she would not be alone and would continue to be cared for well.
The Hands at Work local office in Likasi currently supports five Community Based Organisations in and around the Likasi region, and 2 further Community Based Organisations near Goma, which exist to care for the most vulnerable in their communities. The office provides training, networking, and encouragement to those Community Based Organisations like Luhonga. It also gives administrative support, including helping with funding proposals, monitoring and evaluation, bookkeeping and reporting to donors.