Living in camp away from home
Cradled in the valley in the outskirts of Minova, a town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a camp for Congolese people who were forced from their homes by violence between armed groups. Mubimbi camp was established in 2008, but conflict in eastern Congo continues today as the armed groups fight each other and the Congolese army. They battle to gain and protect land, resources and power, terrorizing and killing civilians in the process.
When families are forced to flee from conflict how do they support themselves? In Mubimbi camp, MCC's local partner Eglise du Christ au Congo (ECC), is helping families grow their own food and supporting education for displaced children.
From chief to labourer
“Whatever we had, like wealth, was taken by the fighters,” said Lipasu Mali (second from right), who in 2007 was chief of the community of Ngungu. “My goats were taken, my cows, my clothes. The crops were harvested by the fighters. My house was destroyed.”
His family fled and eventually found a safe place at Mubimbi camp in 2008. He is pictured here with three of his eight children, Luanda Lipasu, Lukoo Mali and Sifa Mali. For the past seven years, the former chief has supported his family by doing jobs for people in Minova, often working in other people’s fields.
A better way
In January, ECC began a three-year project, under the supervision of Fidele Kyanza, to help people living in the camps grow their own food. ECC provided seeds, garden tools and about 6,700 square feet of rented land to each of the 276 households in Mubimbi camp and to 135 households in Shasha camp, another nearby camp for displaced people. This MCC project is supported through its account with Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
Farming in my own field
In March, former chief Mali, who received rented land, said he was very pleased with how the beans and corn were growing on his steep field, a common place to grow crops in mountainous eastern Congo. “We hope that with the labour of our hands we can survive,” he said.
In early June, ECC reported that the bean crop was abundant.
Corn to corn flour
When the corn matured in late June, Mali and other farmers could use the free mills provided through the project to grind their corn into flour. Normally farmers need to pay for this service.
Food for the transition
To make sure Mubimbi families had food to eat as they made the transition from working in other people’s fields to working in their own, ECC provided two distributions of corn, beans, oil and salt between January and June. The food is typically cooked over a fire inside a shelter to protect the fire from wind and rain.
Community gardens for all
In addition to individual plots, ECC provided two hectares (almost 5 acres) of land for a community garden where people from Mubimbi work one or two afternoons a week to grow food that is divided among all the families. The camp’s humanitarian committee records the amount allotted to each family to make sure the crops are distributed fairly.
In March, Francine Maombi and many others were harvesting amaranth, a plant that is cooked or sautéed, similar to the way people in Canada and the U.S. prepare spinach. Amaranth is often eaten with food made of corn flour, such as ugali. Its leaves contain more calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin C than spinach, according to the Amaranth Institute.
Food for students — eventually
While parents work in the field, children in primary and secondary school go to nearby schools, supported by MCC Global Family education program funding. The agriculture program is expected to eventually help alleviate hunger among the students, who typically eat one meal a day.
Eggplants and cabages galore
In July, Mubimbi residents — the same people whose gardens had been plundered by armed groups as they fled their villages as long as seven years ago — harvested their first fields of eggplants and cabbages for themselves.
The bean harvest was plentiful too. Noela Nabuke, left, and Angelique Mwamini, sort the beans, taking out any that are not acceptable for eating.
David Balingene, right, who cares for his younger brother Janvier Ndamwira, said he remembers eating as much meat as he wanted before he and his brother were chased from their family farm in Ngungu in 2007. Now Balingene said he doesn’t eat meat for months at a time, but he is grateful for the opportunities ECC, through MCC, provides.
“My life is fine now,” Balingene said, comparing it to his early days at Mubimbi. "ECC provides education of our children. It provides food and is supplying a portion of land where we can grow food and enough land to grow enough for the whole camp.”