The Story So Far…
The Story of DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo is approximately the size of Western Europe and is extremely wealthy in natural resources, beautiful rainforest and dramatic landscapes, as well as a vibrant and hospitable culture. Yet for decades, DRC has been characterized by extreme violence and rebel forces, mining and illegal smuggling of resources such as gold and coltan, mass population displacements, recruitment of child soldiers, widespread rape, corrupt leadership, lack of governmental infrastructure and justice, a collapse of public health services, and acute poverty.
Ongoing conflict in the eastern part of DRC has resulted in the loss of more lives than any other conflict since World War II – a reported 5.4 million since 1998 – and in the last year alone, 2.7 million people were forced to flee their homes. According to the UNDP’s Human Development Index, DRC is the most underdeveloped country in the world.
The conflict has had the largest impact on women and children and, with an average of 48 women and girls raped every hour, it is one of the most dangerous countries for a woman to live. In some areas as many as 1 in 5 children die before the age of 5, most often due to preventable to diseases. Over 4 million children are orphaned. More than 25% of children ages 5 to 14 are already working. Tens of thousands of children in DRC have fled their families due to abuse or being accused of witchcraft, and most of these children now live on the streets of towns and cities, vulnerable to further violence and abuse. The 2008 Child Soldiers Global Report suggests that approximately 30,000 children were involved in armed forces and other militias at the end of 2003.
Sources: UN Data (data.un.org), UN Development Statistics (hdr.undp.org/en), World Bank study on Education in DRC 2009, Unicef, Save The Children, War Child, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008, IRIN News (irinnews.org) and BBC News (bbc.co.uk/news)
Read on for the story of The Congo Tree…
The Story of The Congo Tree
It is in this background that, in March 2012, two young women (one Canadian and one British) sat in a hotel in Goma, reflecting on their time living in DRC. It was clear that humanitarian aid was (and still is!) essential in DRC. However, it was also clear that DRC was only going to see positive change through the development of good leadership, of resilient individuals and communities, and the creation of sustainable work opportunities. The young people the women had met in DRC were passionate, intelligent and hopeful, and they believed that they had some resources available to them that might be able to help make their dreams of a better Congo a reality.
The very next day, the women spoke to two of their Congolese friends about the possibilities of working with young people in DRC. The whole group got excited about the prospect of encouraging, training and resourcing local young leaders to do amazing things in their communities. So the four of them spent some months praying and dreaming about what a youth development programme might look like… and The Congo Tree was born!
In April 2013, we piloted our training programme in Goma with 28 young people. In the years since, we have watched as our amazing trainees have worked together to mentor, motivate and build each other up, resulting in a ‘family’ of young people increasingly sure of their identities as leaders in their homes, schools / workplaces, and communities, and eager to be the change their communities need, through sharing their learning with others and through social action and enterprise projects. Meet the team…