JGI staff works on amidst insecurity
The JGI staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is working in the most challenging of conditions -- traveling to and among villages despite fighting nearby between militia forces and government forces.
In late January, the Rwandan army entered the eastern DRC to join the Congolese army against the Hutu-led militia known as the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda). Among the areas where fighting has occurred are three in North Kivu province where we have project sites – Lubero, Walikale, Pinga and Goma. The Goma incidents were only two miles from our offices.
Even with this insecurity and front lines changing from one day to the next, our staff continues to provide support for critically needed health services. “The situation in Goma is not very good, as there are a lot of soldiers moving through,” said project coordinator Dario Merlo. “There is a feeling of insecurity and concern the soldiers are not really under control. But our staff is doing well and we continue to work as usual.”
JGI-DRC’s work focuses largely on the provision of reproductive health services. We are the first and only provider of family planning services in many of the North Kivu villages. In this region there is a significant lack of knowledge about family planning, health care workers have not been trained in family planning, and distribution efforts can be difficult because of instability as well as poor roadways.
To help fill the gaps, we’ve train local men and women as community-based distributors of family planning education and birth control methods. We’ve also trained local health care professionals in family planning counseling and services. Our long-term goal is to help the communities improve the health of mothers and their babies, and to give women and men knowledge so that they are able to determine the spacing between births. Women who are able to control the timing of childbirth can pursue education or help support their families through small businesses. The entire family benefits.
JGI also facilitates the provision of family planning methods to health clinics. Without JGI’s efforts, the women in these areas would have no access to family planning methods. Methods are obtained from the US Agency for International Development in Kinshasa and include male and female condoms, birth control pills, injection (Depo-provera), IUD, and the Standard Days Method (Cycle Beads).
In addition to training health care providers in family planning, we’ve upgraded six health clinics, hiring local masons and other contractors to rehabilitate the mud and clay facilities, in some cases building new maternity rooms. This improves access to health care for women in some of the remotest areas, which reduces the incidences of women being attacked or raped while walking long distances to other clinics.
These efforts are where sustainable development and conservation efforts must begin, says Merlo. “If you don’t have a healthy population, you can’t begin to change behavior. You can’t begin to talk about sustainable agriculture, fuel-efficient stoves, planting trees, livestock,” says Merlo. “It all has to start with health.”
Other JGI-DRC family planning activities include:
- Mobile theatre troupes that go from one village to another and act out plays educating communities on family planning and the benefits for planning and spacing births for the mother and child as well as the family.
- Radio messages – an important communication tool in impoverished areas where people have limited access to books, TV, and internet. In our radio spots we make the link between health and conservation.
- Provision of health supplies to help clinics prevent infections and maintain good standards.