GOMA, 16 August 2013 (IRIN) – Armed conflict, displacement and rape in the provinces of North and South Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have become frighteningly commonplace in recent years, making it one of the most challenging environments for aid workers to operate in.
In 2011, for instance, an estimated 140 cases of violence involving aid workers were reported.
The two provinces account for 65% of the 2.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in DRC – up to 86 percent of them caused by armed violence.
Official figures indicate there are an estimated 967,000 IDPs in North Kivu and 712,000 in South Kivu. They have few basic services and little protection.
Eddy Mbuyi, 29, a national field officer with Oxfam International, tries to help those who have been affected by conflict, something of which he has deep experience: In 1997, when only 13, he and his family had to escape from Goma (capital of North Kivu Province) when Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, at the time headed by Laurent Kabila (a former DRC president), overran the town.
“I walked together with my family through the Virunga national park from Minova, through Sake. It was a bad experience to have as a child,” Mbuyi, who has worked in Goma for the past seven years, told IRIN.
Gloria Ramazani, 23, began doing charity work when she was only 17, documenting the lives of children who had been affected by the violence in Masisi. Having grown up in North Kivu, she knows only too well the effect the violence has had on the lives of locals.
“I am not exaggerating when I say I have never known peace since I was born. My family got displaced when I was only six years old  when [Laurent] Kabila waged a war to overthrow the government of Mobutu. I know what it means to be displaced,” Ramazani, now an external relations officer with the UN Refugee Agency, told IRIN.
The violence, coupled with a near absence of state institutions, means the region lacks basic services. Health facilities are struggling to cope, and schools are run down.
For Ramazani and Mbuyi, the fact they were born and raised in eastern DRC, implies both opportunities and challenges.
“As a local staff [member] and being born in the area, you feel it is part of you. You know the genesis, you know at times personally those who have been affected, but you are overwhelmed. You do the little you can, but still feel inadequate,” Ramazani, said.
“In DRC repeated war is one of the big challenges in trying to help others. I’m a victim affected by the conflict; I need to think and to do things as a humanitarian, before thinking as a Congolese. You are always fighting to detach your actions from your emotions,” Mbuyi, told IRIN.
Aid workers have at times found it difficult to reach those in need, in part due to eastern Congo’s poor roads and insecurity, and armed groups have been targeting aid workers since 2008.
When the situation deteriorates, as it did in November 2012, things can get difficult.
“In November 2012, international aid workers had to leave Goma when the rebels [M23] took it. I was in a dilemma as a local [aid] worker. Do you also go away or what do you do? You ask yourself, `Who will help these people?’ At times, despite being from the area, I am afraid, like when M23 overran Goma,” Ramazani told IRIN.
Having good local knowledge and speaking the local dialect means they can also be immensely valuable to foreign colleagues who get into difficult situations.
Goma has an estimated population of one million, is home to a number of aid organizations and also serves as the HQ of the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), the largest peacekeeping force in the world.
Mbuyi told IRIN that even if the world’s attention is elsewhere, he is always fighting to improve the lives of vulnerable people.
Ramazani added: “When you are left behind, because your other colleagues have left due to the insecurity, I just galvanize the local people to help those who have been affected.”
On the eve of World Humanitarian Day (19 August), the two aid workers stressed the importance of peace.
“I think the world needs more peace because anything else can only be realized in a peaceful world,” said Ramazani.
Mbuyi said: “The world needs to understand how peace is important; peace is one of the expressions of love. Peace is the key [to] development and happiness. I am a father of a beautiful daughter called Ayirine. She is now two and a half years old; she was born during the war and I am afraid that she is going to grow up in war. The best present I can give her is peace, but now I’m unable to give it.”