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Visiting Homes in Goma, DRC with World Relief (East Africa Day 8: 2022-04-20)

Travel Summary: 5h 5m driving 32.2 km, 47 m walking 3.7 km

Today, I woke early and spent time trying to catch up at work before heading out with Sean and Phil for a morning walk around Goma. At 8 AM, we went to the World Relief Office in Goma and met with the team there.

They reviewed the various programs that World Relief is running. I was impressed. In addition to our visit to the clinic yesterday where World Relief is funding the fistula surgeries, they also have numerous additional programs. Below are some highlights. Notice the broad “wholistic” focus, with programs covering everything from GBV, couples facilitation, to Savings & Loan programs.

For dinner the night before I met with the director of the Families for Life program as was impressed with all they are doing and the impact it is making. I confess there are times that I assume that people in extreme poverty are not ready from programs like this. However, I am just wrong. In fact, when you are living under constant stress and you need help navigating complexities, programs like this provide direction and support that can be crucial.

One of the interesting effects of programs like Families for Life (FFL) is that more couples are going to government offices for civil marriages in addition to their church wedding. Why you might ask? Most couples are getting married in churches which the government doesn’t recognize. And, if something happens to your partner, there is no common law marriage which allows assets to be inherited from one partner to the other following death. Thus, the surviving partner can be left with nothing. However, since the FFL program teaches couples the importance of the civil wedding, more and more couples are going through the process and so they are protected.

Intuitively I fully support the various programs that World Relief has and I’m excited about the impact it is making. My one disappointment is that there isn’t any real data that points to the impact. There is no measurement of things like increased income over time (like Capable has). Even if this metric is not relevant to World Relief, are their other metrics they should be measuring? Discussion on the topic this morning didn’t result in any clear changes or identification of metrics that should be pursued, but I’m hoping for follow on discussions after I leave. I’m trying to be careful to not force Western quantitative ideas onto cultures where they don’t work, but I’m also wanting to push the organizations we partner with to excellence and being able to measure the excellence.

Following out morning meeting at World Relief – DRC headquarters, we headed out to a church to meet with local pastors who have been collaborating with World Relief.

It was interesting that prior to World Relief’s initiative, there was very little collaboration between pastors. Furthermore, the church was essentially only focused on their own congregants. After the training, pastors saw the value in collaborating and reaching out to the community. One church had reached out to widows and provided housing for them. It was a blessing to care for them and the widows were blessed by the desperately needed assistance. Another couple had separated because the wife was disrespectful to the husband because he couldn’t find a job. The situation escalated to such an extent that she had moved out. However, through the FFL program, the couple had reconciled and was living together again.

Of course, this was all good, but the underlying problems were just as insidious as before. The widows still didn’t have any source of income and there was no plan in place to change that. Was the church planning to support them indefinitely. While some of the widows were in their 60s, many were still in their 20s and 30s. What was their long term plan and did the church have any ideas how to help move them to self sufficiency? No one new the answer and no one was even asking the questions. And, while I asked the question, I was no better since I had no answers either. Similarly, while it was great that the couple was back together, the husband still didn’t have a job or even a prospect for one. While harmony was great and all, there was a young child likely going under nourished and a family barely making it from day to day. All the marriage counseling in the world wouldn’t alone fix this. (I’m feeling discouraged.)

Our next stop was to the home of a woman who was underwent fistula surgery at the clinic we saw yesterday. Oh my! We all crowded into her living room and sat on the couches as she shared about how her life had changed. At one point she literally stood up and danced, describing in effect, how she has a new life. For those unaware, I quoted both USAID’s traumatic fistula and UNFPA’s obstetric fistula descriptions here. The first is caused by rape and the second by child birth.

For this women, her marriage had been restored and was no longer ostracized by her community.

The next home we visited was with a couple that has participated in five days of “couple facilitator” training, the focus was to have them be able to help council other couples as the navigated the difficulties of marriage. More immediately, the training had impacted their own marriage, so much so that their daughter testified to the significant difference she saw in her parents. The mother especially, shared how much different things were because of her husband’s new found understanding of equality and respect. As I’ve already commented, not knowing anything about “couple’s facilitator” training, I probably wouldn’t have supported something like this if I’d known up front. In hindsight, however, I can see the impact and the importance on helping improve family collaboration and unity as the navigate the challenges of poverty.

We ended the day having dinner with Jean, the World Relief – DRC country director. This too was a great opportunity to learn more about the day to day challenges faced with serving there. Jean also shared the harrowing situation he lived through as he tried to relocate and protect his staff during the volcano in May of 2021. Lava was flowing into the city of Goma and gobbling up everything in its path, making an already challenging humanitarian situation exponentially exacerbated with a natural disaster. Ughh!!

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