Saving Lives and Limbs in DR Congo


Last week, fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, came to end. Yet hundreds of thousands of displaced people remain in abominable conditions in the city of Goma. For an estimated 30,000 vulnerable people, including wounded children and people with disabilities, life is even harsher because they are unable to access aid. Handicap International identifies these people and ensures they get food and shelter, and rehabilitation care when needed.  

In the displaced camps around Goma, people with disabilities have been gathered into rudimentary, unhygienic shelters where they have no access to water, food, or other services.  In one of these shelters, our staff found an elderly woman with an amputated leg who had been left by her relatives. Unable to move, she cannot access food distributions. She waits for sympathetic neighbors to share some of their small, monthly food ration with her.

Further along, a grandmother lives alone in a small tent with her seven grandchildren. Her husband and children have passed away. When one of her grandchildren became sick, she had to sell the plastic tarp that covered her tent to buy medicine. Her shelter no longer protects them from heavy rain and strangers.

Baraka, an eight-year-old boy with a cast around his leg lives in the same camp. The cast was supposed to be taken off after 10 days, but the boy kept it on for over three months and his knee became heavily infected.

“Many humanitarian organizations are trying to assist the displaced people, but the most vulnerable individuals and households are forgotten and are unable to meet their basic needs or to access specific services,” says Marielle Riccio, project coordinator for Handicap International in Goma.

“That’s why Handicap International has sent out teams to identify the most vulnerable people—people with disabilities, older people, people with chronic illnesses, isolated people, etc.—who are invisible to other humanitarian operators," says Marielle. "We will ensure their needs are fulfilled.

“For example, the elderly lady with the amputated leg was taken to an existing service, which would not otherwise have known she needed help, but will now provide her with food. Handicap International will provide follow-up care. The same goes for the grandmother and her seven grandchildren: because they are mostly above the age of five, they do not meet standard vulnerability criteria and do not receive care from other organizations. Through our work, this household will be referred to existing services for food, shelter, health and protection.

“In addition, Handicap International helps those in need of rehabilitation,” Marielle explains. “They are taught basic rehabilitation exercises, either through individual or group sessions. When needed, they will be provided with wheelchairs, crutches, or other assistive devices. People with severe cases, requiring longer-term care, are sent to health centers that in return are provided with material and training on the inclusion of vulnerable people.

“This is what has been done for Baraka, the child with the infected leg. Once his cast was removed, Handicap International’s team took him to primary health services to treat his infection. The boy also has a mental impairment. His brother takes care of him, as their mother has to spend her days collecting wood. They are extremely vulnerable and also need to be referred to protection services.”

Finally, when this boy’s infection has been successfully treated, he will be referred to Handicap International’s team of physical therapists for special care. His case shows the vital role played by Handicap International’s mobile teams. Should our team not have arrived on time, Baraka’s leg might have had to be amputated.”