Women and children — particularly women WITH young children — are among the most vulnerable people when disaster strikes. It’s a problem at the top of our list and for our staff working with the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Recent developments in the country’s long-standing war have sent tens of thousands fleeing to safer places. They’re massing in encampments or moving in with relatives elsewhere. They are hungry, thirsty, and carry only basic belongings. It’s rainy this time of yearand they have no shelter.
First, when FH distributes food, shelter tarps, or hygiene kits, our distribution method provides excellent crowd control. The weak have equal access to the life-saving supplies through an orderly system. Years ago, after an earthquake in India, colleagues working the relief efforts related stories about people literally brawling for food rations for their children. “Someone just drove a truck down the road and threw the food off the truck,” one woman said. “The men are taller and stronger and they beat me to the food every time. I don’t have a husband to fight for the food. So my children are going hungry.”
Second, FH works with community leaders of both genders to make sure we serve the most vulnerable. We think the phrase ‘a woman scorned’ is old-fashioned, but the reality is, women without male partners often are indeed considered the lowest of the low in a community. They are so low, they can be invisible. We query leaders to develop lists of those who are in need, so we can cover everybody and keep track of who has received what. We’ll sometimes go house to house or tent to tent to make sure everyone in need, is on the distribution list.
I observed an FH distribution in DR Congo some years ago, very near to the city of Goma, which is ground zero for the latest clash between the government and rebel forces. Local people from four churches worked the check-in table; they knew their community, knew the names on the sheet. If we included someone who was lying about their needs, they would know it. If we forgot someone, they would know it.
Third, FH sticks around when women start to rebuild their lives after a disaster. A woman without a male partner can find herself landless, and without money to buy seeds and tools. She’s less likely to own livestock, like goats to provide organic fertilizer. FH already targets these women in DR Congo with our ongoing programs, so we’ll be more than ready to help anyone suffering through this latest crisis. We don’t just give them stuff; we teach them how to grow healthier food for themselves and for their children. We put them in supportive groups, often working communal fields, so they break through the isolation that so often goes along with being a woman alone.
You can read more about this in my colleague Martin Josten’s blog post. Keep the Democratic Republic of the Congo in your prayers.
- Women farmers in the Congo (DRC) pave the way for healthier families
- Congolese women and men unite in solidarity for International Women’s Day
- Holding out for justice in the Congo
- How sponsorship saved a family in the wake of disaster
- Seven ways women and girls are especially vulnerable during emergencies