“Philémon, my son, was ten years old at the time,” says Véronique as she recalls the day of her son's accident. “He was walking home from school. He was a hundred yards or so from the house where 13 of us live. The traffic is terrible in Goma. A truck loaded with stones missed Philémon by inches, then tipped over and crushed his leg.
“The neighbors ran to tell us. I couldn't believe it. I was in a total panic when I got to the hospital. My son was in intensive care. When I finally got to see him, the doctors had already amputated his right leg. It was like a nightmare.”
Véronique and her husband Jean-Pierre live in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a region torn apart by more than two decades of conflict. The couple live in a small home along with their 11 children.
After Philémon’s accident, he had to stay in hospital for three months, and endured three operations. "His leg was swollen, and he wanted to die,” his mother continues. “He was so depressed. It was torture seeing him like that. When he came home, we would often find him sitting in a corner, crying.”
Humanity & Inclusion’s rehabilitation team met Philémon and gave him a pair of crutches. We then started providing him with physical therapy sessions three times a week at a Goma provincial hospital.
“His stump is in a good condition,” explains Noela, a physical therapist with Humanity & Inclusion. “But after the accident, they had to amputate the whole leg. He’s going to have to wear a special belt around his waist so his prosthesis stays on. At the moment, Philémon is doing exercises to strengthen the stump and make it more flexible.”
To help boost his confidence, Philémon also attends psychosocial support sessions with Brigitte, a psychologist from Humanity & Inclusion. “He is participating in psychosocial sessions," Brigitte says. "He plays and expresses he feelings, but it’s not easy. Philémon is still very fragile and very withdrawn. He used to have a lot of friends. Now it's more complicated. At school, he is the only child with a disability out of more than a thousand students. It is still difficult.”
When Humanity & Inclusion’s team asks Philémon what he wants to do when he grows up, he hesitates, then whispers that he likes cars and mechanics. His father adds, “I'm dreaming a little, but I'd like him to be an entrepreneur.”
Humanity & Inclusion (which operates under the name Handicap International in the DRC) has completed its demining operations in the Tshopo, Ituri, Bas-Uele and Haut-Uele provinces of Democratic Republic of the Congo. From January 2016 to December 2017, HI and its local partner, Africa for Anti-Mine Action (AFRILAM) cleared 34,520 meters of land of mines, freeing 5,600 people of the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war, the legacy of conflicts between armed groups in the region which started in the 1990s.
The mines were cleared manually by a team of 19 deminers trained by Humanity & Inclusion. On average, one deminer manually cleared 13 meters each day. Since operations began in 2016, 21 mines have been made safe and destroyed, along with 25 explosive remnants of war (ERW) including F1 grenades, PG7 rockets, and 120 mm mortar shells.
"Despite the very difficult conditions in the zones concerned, due to the rainy season from October to May and the very dense vegetation, the demining operations went very well,” explains Jadot Bamungu, the head of HI's demining operations in the DRC. “HI organized 85 risk education sessions for 6,000 people to raise awareness of the risks of explosive remnants of war. We feel this will help the local populations to feel safer and to go about their day-to-day activities serenely.”
Antipersonnel landmines were first used in 1960 in the DRC when it achieved its independence. Since 1996, there has been widespread use of mines by the various armed groups fighting in the north and east of the country in a succession of conflicts. They still pose a constant threat to the local population today.
HI in DRC
Present in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1994, HI provides rehabilitation care, promotes the inclusion of children with disabilities in schools, and more. Having been heavily involved in demining operations, our previous projects in this area date back to 2014. Alongside AFRILAM, our partner since 2008, we've been deploying new operations in this area over the last three years. A State Party to the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has set itself the goal of becoming mine free by 2021. Learn more about our work in the DRC.
Following ongoing clashes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 10,000 people have left South Kivu and are taking refuge in south-western Burundi. Humanity & Inclusion (which works under the operating name “Handicap International” in Burundi) is on the ground, assisting the most vulnerable, including thousands of unaccompanied children.
“We are preparing to implement protection activities targeted at the most vulnerable people, particularly children, who account for more than 65% of refugees,” explains Audrey Lecomte, HI’s Head of Mission in Burundi. “Many of them arrived without their parents and are particularly at risk from violence, exploitation, or abandonment. We want to protect girls and women by providing them with psychological support and making them aware of the risk of violence. HI needs funding to launch its emergency response.”
“The needs of refugees in transitional camps are considerable. These camps are designed to provide very temporary accommodation and are now operating beyond full capacity. Access to services such as health care and aid remains extremely limited given the needs of these refugees.
“Many people without shelter sleep grouped together in hangars. The shortage of water and sanitary facilities, such as toilets, has increased the risk of a cholera epidemic. The most vulnerable people including children, women, older people, and people with disabilities are particularly at risk. We’re expecting to see a new influx of refugees in the weeks ahead.”
Our work in Burundi
Present in Burundi since 1992, HI helps ensure people with disabilities have access to basic services and rehabilitation and are involved in their social and economic environments. Learn more about our work in Burundi.
More than two million people have been affected by the humanitarian crisis in Grand Kasai, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Handicap International has sent emergency specialists to support its existing teams in the field. Sulu Bellarmin, who works as both the organization’s driver and logistics assistant, tells us about life in Kasai.
What impact has this crisis had on local people?
There’s a strong climate of insecurity: people are being murdered, raped, and their homes are being destroyed or robbed – everyone’s afraid. Thousands of people have been displaced, some have taken refuge with relatives, and others are living in makeshift accommodation in rural areas. Economically, the railway that transported food in to Kananga is no longer operating and prices have skyrocketed. Because of the insecurity, people no longer sell food to families by bicycle. There’s a severe shortage of medication, food, and essential items, such as hygiene products. The situation is critical.
How has your family been affected?
My family and I have been very badly affected. We’d never experienced a conflict before, with bullets coming at you from all sides. We go days without food or sleep, and worry that maybe there’s going to be an attack in our neighborhood, which is getting emptier by the day. We have been displaced to a more expensive and smaller house, where we’re relatively safe. Things are very worrying.
What are working conditions like?
We’re all working under pressure in a tense situation. I’ve been involved in the logistics side of things: purchasing, accommodation and supplier research – since the start of the emergency response, and I still work as a driver. Handicap International’s emergency response is meant to help victims of this crisis, particularly by providing rehabilitation care to casualties and getting humanitarian aid to remote areas. It puts my mind at ease to know that I’m helping the most vulnerable people. That’s one of my top priorities.
Learn more: Handicap International in Kasai
Present in Kasai since 2015, Handicap International has sent a team of emergency specialists to expand its response to this crisis. The organization also provides rehabilitation care, distributes walkers, wheelchairs, and other mobility aids, and provides psychological support to victims. The organization also assesses the situation facing the victims of violence in order to better protect them and to train local organizations to identify the most vulnerable people. Handicap International helps to transport humanitarian aid to people living in areas that are difficult to access or unsafe. Lastly, Handicap International is also planning to distribute food and essential household items, such as cooking utensils and hygiene kits with soap, to thousands of affected families.
When Humanity & Inclusion first met Patrick, the boy was crawling around the rough black volcanic rock of Mugunga 3, a camp for people displaced by the rebel conflict in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. The front of his white shirt and yellow shorts were smeared with black dust. Due to a congenital malformation, Patrick was born without hands or legs and so he crawled or scooted around as best he can. Patrick lives in a tent with mother and sister; his father abandoned the family when he was born.Read more