From a distance, Minembwe, a territory near Uvira, South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is almost postcard perfect, green and peaceful. But the landscape is a sharp contrast to the daily routine: life here is far from easy. Minembwe can only be accessed by helicopter on a weekly basis from a city a few hours away. The alternative is to arrive on a motorcycle taxi, a trip that is very uncomfortable, or to walk.
“Here, there is no power, and we have to use bucket showers. There’s not much food and it is always the same: rice, beans and foufou, which is made of cassava and is the main food among the Congolese. Fruits and vegetables don’t grow because it’s too hot. Rebels are hiding in the forests nearby and the area is still very dangerous,” explains Diego Filopandi, who works with AVSI in DRC. “Getting ill here is terrifying, giving birth an odyssey. There are no operating theaters. We don’t have access to basic medical infrastructure. There are only a few clinics here able to provide basic care, but if there’s an emergency, you have to rely on luck”.
This is all about to change for the 80,000 people who live in the region. On October 27, the Minembwe General Hospital was officially opened. With funding from the European Union, AVSI built a hospital with six pavilions covering 13,000 square feet. The hospital has a male and female ward, a pediatric intensive care unit, a maternity ward, a general surgery ward, a laboratory analysis building and an administrative block.
The official opening was celebrated enthusiastically. It took years for the hospital to be built and involved many contributions, which were all essential to the construction. AVSI officially handed over the hospital to the DRC Ministery of Health, who in turn will manage the facilities and ensure its access to as many people as possible. At the opening ceremony, members of the Taioli family and major donors from Cesena, Italy were all present.
During the construction, many people living in Minembwe would come to see the progress of the building. Among them, there was Maman Aimee. She is almost nine months pregnant and has never had access to any pre-natal care. “Kuwa Nguvu, Maman Aimee, Be Strong!”, kept wishing her friends. They hope she will be able to give birth in the new hospital.
By FIAMMETTA CAPPELLINI.
In 2010, the earthquake took us by surprise and we were terribly shocked. Six years later, almost seven, Hurricane Matthew hits Haiti and it’s a tragedy foretold. For days we had been following the formation of the storm online.
For days we studied its trajectory and waited. What were we waiting for? Were we hoping that it wouldn’t affect us? No, we were waiting for a miracle, we were hoping that the hurricane would dissipate, that in spite of the catastrophic predictions the system would disappear and the sun would shine again. Because when you live on an island, in the middle of the sea and a hurricane decides to cross your way, where do you go? How do you hide? Nowhere. You can only hope for a miracle.
But the miracle never happened. The sky became darker, the clouds bigger and bigger, until it became a gray wall. The wind, the rain, became stronger and stronger, and we didn’t know where we were anymore.
Palm trees were bending and then sometimes flying away, gone with the wind. The rain started tapping loudly on the rooftops. It seems you are in the middle of the ocean when a hurricane hits so violently. This hurricane was cruel. It was powerful, the most powerful in the last decade, and it was slow, pausing for a long period of time, and leaving behind destruction and desolation.
Then finally, it was gone, leaving behind a silent land. Now, in Haiti, especially in the South department, there is only silence. Those who have never heard the silence immediately after a disaster cannot understand. It’s a silence that represents death, destruction. It’s a terrible silence.
Water is everywhere, and it’s hard to differentiate the fields from the streets. There are no more houses, no more cultivated land. There is only water, everywhere. They say that overnight we had more than half a meter of rain. Before the hurricane we could see fruit trees, houses, schools and churches… Now we can only see water, and mud.
As soon as the wind stopped blowing wildly, AVSI’s staff gathered, but a few were missing and we could only hope that they were busy trying to rebuild their own houses, that nothing more serious happened to them.
Those who did come to work, drove fast with their Jeeps. First, they looked for our colleagues, and then for the children that AVSI helps in Haiti through our Distant Support Program. Those are our most vulnerable children.
Many roads are closed, if not most of them. We cannot even think of reaching the most distant communities, so we began with the closest one, because we had to begin somewhere.
We visit one house at a time. The Jeeps struggle with the mud and sometimes we need one car to tow another. And sometimes that’s not even enough. At the end of the day, we were speechless; shaking our heads. Nothing left.
We visited dozen of families and they all lost their homes. The government evaluates that 95% of the homes disappeared, dragged away by the hurricane, but trying to put in numbers on what happened is a useless exercise. We can summarize the situation in a word: catastrophe. One of our staff members showed me some pictures. She points to a black puddle and tells me: “In this area there was a house”. “Which area?” “There, where now we can only see a black puddle”. The whole life of a family left in a puddle.
There are 60,000 homeless, only in the South department; and we have schools, bridges, and roads to rebuild. Start from scratch. Again. “Why? Why Haiti, again?” We ask ourselves, especially the young ones. The older ones spread their arms, smile and don’t say a word.
The women stare at you for a second and quickly go back to their tasks, preparing a soup with who knows what, with a pot found who knows where, in the mud right outside the shelter. “The children need to eat,” they tell you. And then they look at you with a long hardened look that only a Haitian mother with a brood of children can give you. We understand. Tomorrow, we will come back with our truck, full of rice. Then, we will think about everything else. One step at a time.
By ROBERTA ALVES AND MARIE L'HERMINE
Photos taken by AVSI staff in Ivory Coast
In a country where only 56.9% of the population are able to read and write, AVSI found an easy and exciting way to bring thousands of new books to children’s doorsteps: foldable mobile libraries. As part of the project implemented by AVSI under the leadership of the World Food Programme (WFP), “Integrated Support for Sustainable School Canteens and Early Grade Reading in Ivory Coast” (2016-2020), 80,000 books will be distributed to 613 schools in seven program regions: Cavally, Bafing, Bagoue, Poro, Tchologo, Boukani and Gontougo. Each school will receive a mobile library which can hold up to 30 books and will include titles written by Ivorian, African and Francophone authors.
The project aims to improve the literacy skills of children attending primary school in Ivory Coast by assisting the Ministry of Education with the implementation of its new early grade reading curriculum including training teachers and facilitating parent and community involvement in literacy related activities. The World Food Programme (WFP) will be implementing a school feeding program in the same 613 schools with the intention of improving the nutritional status of children. Both sets of outcomes—nutrition and early reading skills—will complement each other for greater impact on the lives of these children in Ivory Coast.
Research has shown the importance that access to books has in promoting a love of reading and fundamental skills at a young age.
“We want to give children a broader understanding of the French language,” explains Elly Bahati, AVSI Education Officer and Program Manager in Ivory Coast. “We began by choosing Ivorian authors as a priority and then we expanded with titles published in African Francophone countries and finally we included other books written in French”.
In July, the first step in this five-year project funded by the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program through USDA, came to a close. AVSI, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Ivory Coast Ministry of Education, and the National Statistical Institute (INS) carried out a robust baseline assessment of schools targeted for the project. AVSI brought on board the services of IMPAQ International, a DC based firm with plenty of experience in education evaluation, to test the reading skills of students in 100 primary schools in the seven regions. 1,181 students went through the testing—a combination of a reading assessment and school and household surveys. The main goal was to understand how many students can read according at grade level at the beginning of the project.
The results were poor, but not unexpected. Very few students can read at grade level: only 5% of first graders passed the acceptable reading threshold for their grade. Reading proficiency levels were low across all grades and the numbers seem to get worse as the children grow older: 14% of second graders, 22% of third graders, 11% of fourth graders, 6% of fifth graders, and 8% of sixth graders read at grade level. Across all grades, girls demonstrated lower reading skills than boys.
One positive finding was the widespread interest that children expressed towards reading. “Although there is a low presence of books outside of schools and low parental engagement in reading at home, children show a positive attitude towards reading and a growing desire for having access to more books,” says Bahati.
In the next few months, children at these schools in mostly rural regions of the country, will have the opportunity to be introduced to the mobile libraries through interactive activities like story time, music, theater and individual reading. The mobile libraries have already been used in big cities like the capital, Abidjan, but this will be the first time they are introduced in these regions. They were created with the idea of introducing books to children in a fun way.
AVSI Network was able to collect 30,000 books around the World
Once the project is completed, 125,000 children will have access to 80,000 books. 30,000 of them were donated to AVSI from francophone countries like Switzerland and France. The other 50,000 will be bought. Once each school has their library, children will be able to take books home on a regular basis to read with their families.
As part of the project, teachers working in the seven regions will also receive training on how to use improved tools to teach math and reading. The main new tools are a series of booklets designed to help students have a better understanding of letters and sounds in order to decode words and be able to read.
“This project is fundamental to deal with the current struggle with illiteracy in Ivory Coast and we are confident it will bring positive changes,” says Coulibaly Adama, General Adjunct of the National Ministry of Education.
Anton Barbu, responsible for AVSI’s activities in Syria, talks about the children of Damascus in this interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “Every day, I leave my house at around 7:30 to go to AVSI’s office in Damascus. It’s a ten-minute walk. On my way, I encounter at least 30 children sleeping on the sidewalk.”
How is the current situation in Syria?
I have recently spoken with a father who lives in #Aleppo. He described heartbreaking scenes: children wondering around the rubble because their families have either left town or can no longer take care of them. But also in Damascus the situation has deteriorated. Every time I stop at a traffic light, I’m “surrounded” by many children trying to sell whatever they have, most of the time stacks of tissues.
Is there a future for Syrian children?
In Europe we say that children are the future. In Syria, they are the present, in the sense that at least 2 million children are currently living a daily drama in areas difficult to reach.
Do you think in Damascus a child suffer less than in Aleppo?
If we really want to say that, I guess we can. At least in Damascus, children have a sidewalk to sleep on. In Aleppo, not even that.
On September 6, AVSI finalized a three-year project funded by the European Union in the Republic of the Congo. The project’s main goal was to train and facilitate the inclusion of young adults with disabilities in the labor market through the creation of cooperatives.
“Now I know who I am, a hairdresser. I’m self-sufficient and financially independent”. Elayne is 26 years old; she is deaf and lives in Pointe-Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of the Congo and the main commercial center of the country. In Pointe-Noire, 500 kilometers away from the capital Brazzaville, more than 7,000 young adults with disabilities live among a total population of 800,000 people. Most of them are completely excluded from the labor market and depend on friends and family support. This was Elayne’s life three years ago. She was then accepted in a project funded by the European Union and implemented by AVSI, whose main goal was to integrate young adults like her into the workforce through the creation of cooperatives.
After three years of taking professional courses, Elayne, with 177 other young adults with disabilities, is finally independent. She and her colleagues learned new skills and are now able to work in recently created cooperatives. This amazing outcome is a result of their strong determination and their integration in the project funded by the European Union to improve the social and economical conditions of people with disabilities in the region.
During the three-year project, these 177 young adults learned how to be tailors, carpenters, upholsterers, hairdressers as well as bakers and blacksmiths. AVSI followed them through their journey to become economical independent: from learning new skills to how to manage their recently created cooperatives, which represent the core of the project.
“Those who participated in the project were encouraged to work together in cooperatives, legally recognized by the Government in the Republic of Congo. This way it was easier to reintegrate these young adults in the workforce,” explained Caterina Cipriani, AVSI responsible in the Republic of the Congo.
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