Since first hearing that my first mission with MSF would be in Katanga I did a lot of reading to try and familiarise myself with the situation here; the recent history and the geography. Flying out to Shamwana, I was able to translate some of that reading into reality. Flying over the huge expanse I had spent hours staring at on the map, I suddenly felt connected to the place, and hoped that on landing I’d be able to connect with the people as well.
Shamwana is in the heart of the so-called ‘Death Triangle’, a rather ominous name for an area of such beauty, untouched by western influences, but sadly touched with conflict and terror.
The situation here has been calm for the past year or so. The fighting that has torn families apart, destroyed homes and livelihoods, has subsided, for the moment, and people are returning from hiding to lay claim to their villages and rebuild their communities. The project MSF runs here helps in this process, providing free healthcare to a vulnerable society when they need it the most. It’s not an emergency-relief headline-grabbing project, but the work being done here is so important in securing a brighter future for the returning population.
What strikes me when walking around the village is the willingness to get on with things. Around every corner people are busily getting on with their daily routine, children are out playing in the street, teenagers crowd round a battered radio trying to catch the latest football scores. One of my international colleagues pointed out that more care is being taken over everybody’s plot of land, solid fences being put in place and gardens being extended. This is a sign that people are feeling more secure and safe here than they have in previous times, making a comfortable home for the long term.
Most mornings I’ve been out running, seeing the village wake up each day. Whenever we're running the children go mad. They all come out of their houses to shout hello to us and the more energetic ones run behind for as long as they can. At one point we had six or seven shouting and running trying to keep up. Sideeka, my fellow worker and runner turned to me and said, "They're so cute, it's so sad to think that one of them won't be here this time next year".
From my reading, I know all the statistics for DRC and Katanga; the high child mortality rate; the regular outbreaks of measles and cholera, but it’s one thing seeing a number on a page and then see a group of laughing smiling children and translate that figure into reality. It really struck me and put everything into perspective – why I’m here, why MSF is here, and the obstacles the people here face in restoring their old way of life.
I hope the work I do helps provide more hope to the village, and that as I start to connect, the children following me on my morning run don’t turn into more tragic DRC statistics.