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Nuestras vivencias, nuestra historia

 

Para conmemorar este año el Día Mundial de la Cruz Roja y de la Media Luna Roja, personas de todo el mundo cuentan cómo se vincularon con el Movimiento. En este artículo, voluntarios de la Sociedad Nacional más antigua de África comparten sus vivencias y expresan su opinión sobre la acción humanitaria.

Durante el último medio siglo , el pueblo de la República Democrática del Congo ha soportado una sucesión de crisis devastadoras, entre conflictos internos, desplazamientos, oleadas de refugiados y calamidades naturales, además de la pobreza crónica y de las precarias condiciones sanitarias. Como consecuencia, se despliega en el país una de las operaciones humanitarias y de desarrollo de mayor envergadura y de más larga duración del mundo. Ahora bien, llegar a las personas vulnerables en las zonas remotas, afectadas por el conflicto, no es tarea fácil en un país con una infraestructura limitada y un territorio más grande que Francia, Alemania, Noruega, España y Suecia juntos.

De ahí la importancia de los voluntarios. A pesar de los escasos recursos, la Sociedad Nacional ha sabido forjar un cuerpo de voluntarios que le permite llegar a las personas vulnerables en las 11 provincias del país. “Eso es lo que nos hace fuertes y nos sentimos orgullosos de ello”, dice Paul Panzu, de 72 años, voluntario y coordinador de un proyecto de VIH/SIDA.

La Sociedad Nacional también ha hecho aportes sustanciales, como trabajar para impedir la erosión del suelo que amenazaba a las comunidades locales; promover el humanitarismo y la no violencia; mejorar la higiene; prestar primeros auxilios; restablecer el contacto entre las familias separadas por el conflicto y ofrecer apoyo psicosocial y económico a los ex niños soldados y a los hijos de familias desintegradas.

Sin embargo –dice-, todavía hay carencias y queda aún mucho por hacer: coordinar mejor la acción humanitaria, trabajar con las comunidades a fin de hallar soluciones de largo plazo, conseguir el equipamiento tan necesario para los grupos de socorristas, ampliar la red de voluntarios, mejorar la capacidad profesional y proteger a los voluntarios de cualquier daño.

“Se cuida bien a los voluntarios pero no es suficiente”, observa Thomas Kalonji Kananga, formador y orientador de jóvenes. “Necesitamos que el Movimiento nos dé un mayor respaldo, especialmente en relación con el suministro de equipos y la sensibilización sobre la labor de los voluntarios, para que puedan acceder libremente a las víctimas y no ser blanco de los grupos armados”.

 


Paul Panzu
Fotografía: ©Aapu Huhta/Federación Internacional


 

 

 

 

 

 



Violette Lakulu Nkwewa Fotografía: ©Croix-Rouge de la République démocratique du Congo

 

 

Violette Lakulu Nkwewa

National trainer and coordinator of the women’s brigade in the city and province of Kinshasa

As a young girl, Violette Lakulu Nkwewa was inspired by her older brother’s involvement in the Red Cross. “I loved the group of young volunteers he belonged to,” she recalls. “They were always together and they all spontaneously brought relief to victims, mostly related to car accidents.

“This was reinforced when I saw the volunteers help someone who had fallen and seemed old and abandoned,” says Nkwewa, now 47. “They washed him and he recovered. He was not actually an old man, but a young one, weakened by disease. This gesture moved me and strengthened my conviction.”

Joining as a junior volunteer at the age of 11, Nkwewa was trained in basic emergency response and over the years continued to expand her skills. “Some people were surprised that a woman could serve as a rescue volunteer, but I always told them that volunteering or rescuing was not restricted to men,” she says. Now, with 36 years experience, she serves as a national trainer and coordinator of the women’s brigade for the city and province of Kinshasa.

She is most proud of her National Society’s work helping child soldiers and children from the street. “Many children have now become useful to society; they finished their university studies and work,” she says. “I am also proud of the first-aid volunteers, especially the women, who have always been the first ones on the scene.”

But the National Society can improve, she says, by strengthening its capacity to respond to disasters, providing volunteers with adequate equipment and training, and finding the resources to offer a desperately needed ambulance service.

Her toughest moment as a volunteer came when she was taken hostage by the former child soldiers she was supervising. “The children were complaining that they hadn’t received any financial support to enable them to resume normal life, so they offloaded their frustration onto me, taking me hostage for more than 24 hours. As I was on good terms with them, they didn’t do anything wrong to me. I used my powers of persuasion until the authorities of the Red Cross came to release me.”


Kikeki Di-Bikeka

Volunteer and former head of the provincial Red Cross of Kinshasa

The year was 1950 and 24-year-old scout leader Kikeki Di-Bikeka and his troupe needed to learn life-saving skills as part of their training. “The scout movement asked a Belgian nurse and Red Cross member to train us,” he says, recalling his first encounter with the Movement. “At that time, the Red Cross was only open to white people and was not known as a volunteer organization by the Congolese people. Rather, it was seen as a health service.”

Two years later, a Belgian Red Cross volunteer named Leon Stouff, who was encouraging the admission of indigenous Congolese to the Red Cross, recruited Di-Bikeka as a volunteer. “Stouff’s strategy was to reach out to adults through an awareness programme on hygiene and health called ‘Small Samaritans’ carried out by children at the Salvationists’ [Salvation Army’s] schools,” he recalls, adding that the corps of young people grew to include 1,600 children and teens after just one year. (See www.redcross.int for a story about Leon Stouff, as well as Belgian Red Cross actions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)

As part of that effort, Di-Bikeka helped organize a tournament which brought even more public attention to health issues as well as support for the National Society in the community, among colonial authorities and within the Movement.

“The fact that I was recruited as the first Congolese to organize the membership of black persons empowered my humanitarian action,” says Di-Bikeka, who is now 87. “I had to organize adult trainings and create rescue services fitted with 105 well-equipped vehicles and mobile clinics.

“We were always close to the community. This strengthened our image and trust within the community. Where there was an emergency, the Red Cross was seen. This momentum has preserved the National Society until today, and it makes it one of the few, if not the only, organization to be close to the populations in very difficult situations — and this in spite of insufficient resources.”

Though the National Society has accomplished much, he laments that the ambulance corps no longer exists. The National Society is still not living up to its potential because the peoplepower of volunteers is not matched with sufficient resources and support in terms of equipment, health care and sustainable funding. “I’m sorry that after all these years, the Red Cross of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still a beginner National Society that only intervenes with support from providing National Societies,” he says.

The National Society and the Movement, he says, need to do a better job raising funds, spreading its message and strengthening advocacy with parliamentarians and other officials for policies that would, for example, use a small percentage of the state budget.

Like most volunteers here, Di-Bikeka has lived through some difficult times. “In 1962, during the political crisis for an independent Congo, I was responsible for food assistance to war victims throughout the republic. Once I arrived in Kisangani, a stronghold of opponents to the government in Kinshasa, I was arrested along with the local authorities, the people who were accused of having caused food poisoning. I was saved by the intervention of a volunteer.”

After all these years working as a volunteer, does he think that all the humanitarian interventions in the DR C are making a difference? “What is positive is that victims are assisted and their suffering is alleviated,” he says. “The downside is that in crisis, ordinary people do not assist each other. They expect organizations to act. And even the organizations sometimes lack the resources to assist most of the vulnerable people or the assistance does not meet their real needs.”


Kikeki Di-Bikeka
Fotografía: ©Croix-Rouge de la République démocratique du Congo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“At that time, the
Red Cross was only
open  to white people
and  was not known
as a volunteer organiz-
ation by the Congolese
people. Rather, it was
seen as a  health service.

Kikeki Di-Bikeka

 

 

 

 

 


Leon Stouff,
Fotografía: ©Croix-Rouge de la République démocratique du Congo

Red Cross of the
Democratic Republic of
the Congo

 



Thomas Kalonji Kananga
Fotografía: ©Croix-Rouge de la République démocratique du Congo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thomas Kalonji Kananga

Volunteer, facilitator, trainer and coach for youth

For 22-year-old Thomas Kalonji Kananga, the Red Cross spirit runs in the family. So when he decided to volunteer at the age of 10, there were no objections from his parents, who were also Red Cross volunteers.

But not all parents are so supportive. “Many parents reduce the mission of the Red Cross to the collection of dead bodies and are reluctant to let their children join,” says Kananga, who works in hospitals, old people’s homes and vulnerable communities as well as with young people. “To support the youth who approach me, I personally meet with their parents to better inform them about our activities. Most of the parents end up consenting.”

For his part, the decision to volunteer has deepened his love for his fellow human beings, improved his own self-control and helped him understand people’s problems and address their concerns.

Because of conflict, poverty and other issues, many young people in the DR C lack the family support, employment, education and supervision that can help keep them on track. Activities for youth are critical in helping them avoid drugs, crime and violence, he says.

The trick is to make youth activities sustainable, by increasing the number of youth supervisors, strengthening their capacity and having more partnerships and experience-sharing with young people from other National Societies and humanitarian organizations.

“Many challenges await youth across the world, and particularly in the DR C,” he says. “We therefore have a mission to manage our peers properly so they do not let themselves be carried away by bad influences.”

 

‘My story’

That’s the theme of World Red Cross Red Crescent Day on 8 May. Do you or someone you know have a story to share about their connection to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement? If so, let us know via rcrc@ifrc.org.

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