God has been really our Eben-Ezer: Thus far God has protected Minembwe. Fighting had never stopped around Minembwe, Itombwe and Bijombo locations. The last attacks were done on villages of Muliza and Kakangara in the east of Minembwe Center and Kahwela and Rubanda villages in west of Minembwe between 10th and 17th January 2020 with causalities including death, cows looting, and villages burned. Government intervention is still very limited and passive as all these attacks happen in eyes of government soldiers! Itombwe location has been destroyed at 90% while Kamombo location is entirely empty of its population. Bijombo location is affected and destroyed at about 60%. Minembwe Rural Commune is still standing but with so many wounds with so many villages in its environs destroyed as well. Over 200 people have died and many more wounded; over 90,000 cows have been looted, thousands more died due to lack of enough grazing space. The center hosts more than 45,000 of displaced people with no adequate assistance. Due to lack of humanitarian assistance, people continue to leave Minembwe to seek refuge in other urban areas and neighboring countries in midst of political speeches of hatred and xenophobia against Banyamulenge that are mounting particularly in social media.
How are people surviving
Host families in Minembwe have shown demonstrated extraordinary support to displaced families not only by providing shelter but also by sharing all their households, including food, clothes, plates, etc. Each household in Minembwe hosts between 2 to 4 displaced families. The challenge here is that family provisions are also at the point of finishing because they are shared among many. Secondly, access to fields outside Minembwe is extremely limited due to insecurity. In some instances, farmers are escorted to go and look food which were still not destroyed by armed groups or by rains and lack of maintenance particularly those that were still in fields while the people fled.
Minembwe sons and daughters in Diaspora, friends and partners of local organizations have been sending occasionally support including food, clothing, medicines/doctors and funds. Although these are not enough compared to huge needs of people (this time not only for the displaced but also the host families), but it is a profound sign of solidarity, compassion and care. In this way, Minembwe still hopes not only to survive but to live again! There are a number of national and international ONGs but whose intervention is very limited. Needs are huge! The main access to Minembwe remains by air. MONUSCO has 2 regular flights per week and Buzy Bee Company has one flight a week. The option of the road is difficult and insecure, the vehicles stop at about 40km and people walk the rest of journey. The government and humanitarian organizations have been requested many times to fix the road which might be a lasting solution to transportation of people and goods, this request is still not met yet.
About 20 schools (primary and secondary) are operating and host over 4500 children. Some schools also hosting some displaced schools. Some children study in morning and others in afternoon. Eben-Ezer University of Minembwe (UEMI) is functioning with over 200 students and over 350 pupils of our primary and secondary schools (CODAP UEMI). However, none of these pupils and students pay school/university fees. Teachers and school administrations pose another serious challenge for the success of school year. Teachers have families to attended to as well. They depended on salaries, but today there is no fees paid. Other partners have paid for orphans’ school fees, which helped. Also, we used some of unrestricted funds from donors to pay half of salaries of teachers for them to take care of their families and also for the schools continue to function.
Through the support of friends and organizations, UEMI and LaOlam have continually been at the service of local communities through different programs. Besides education to youth, availability of internet connection has been a big relieve to such isolated locality and engulfed by conflict. The conference hall hosts every week more than 1500 people who come for church services Saturdays and Sundays to displaced churches and also a reconciliation meeting point for different groups of people. Due to some support from World Relief, we hope to fix the university clinic laboratory, which will give more health services. With support of organization partners such as Micha 6:8 Foundation, DW Foundation, World Relief, Cornell University, Engen DRCongo, Forgotten Songs and LaOlam, Eben-Ezer University and its services have been able to survive and to support hundreds of families in need. This week, we were to distribute beans to 250 families, 500 families came. What was meant for 250 is divided and shared among all the needy! We plan to distribute more food including maize to 250 families end of this week.
Today nurseries for vegetables are installed in 5 villages around Minembwe center and its environs which will benefit more than 400 families ready to plant in February 2020. These are replacing vegetable plantation that were prepared end of September 2019 when fighting raged in villages affecting many of our agricultural projects. Moreover, over 30 tons of beans and some maize were bought and are progressively being distributed to needy people. MONUSCO has been very supportive in areas of transportation of our staff and partners. Without it, we could not have been able to function in Minembwe. Eben-Ezer is one of the few institutions that never closed its doors even during difficult moments. Only one time, its refugee students and volunteer family with young children had to leave and MONUSCO was very helpful in transport facilitation.
UEMI and LaOlam have hosted many of its partners including volunteers who come for short between 1 to 3 months stay and serve freely at university. Among them, we also hosted Samaritan Purse team who had come to evaluate the humanitarian crisis in Minembwe and hopefully, they will also join other partners to contribute in alleviating the burden of the people. UEMI has maintained good collaboration with local government and other partners in fulfilling our mission of education, peace and local development.
Efforts of Reconciliation
It has been difficult during times of deep and open crisis to establish solid contacts for people in conflicts (from all sides) to talk about cessation of hostilities. Since December 2019, initial meetings facilitated by MONUSCO, Provincial Government and civil society in Bukavu have opened up a leeway for people including representatives of armed groups to meet. At some level, discussions are continuing timidly. On 24 January 2020, a Banyamulenge woman taken hostage by mai-mai groups was released the following day (25th). This follows other hostages released in December 2019 taken during the fighting Bijombo location. On the other hand, displaced people from Bafuliru tribe are making their ways back to Minembwe and being welcome by their Banyamulenge neighbors. However, attacks on civilian villages particularly Banyamulenge villages have resumed recently (Muliza and Kakangara in Minembwe mid-January and Kahuna, Mugete, Kajembwe, Kagogo in Bijombo location on 21-22 January 2020).
Call to help
On behalf of Eben-Ezer University of Minembwe and its services would like to thank you all for your support, prayers, contributions and for any other initiative taken to help stop the bleeding of Minembwe and alleviate humanitarian crisis caused by armed conflict. Once again THANK YOU and I wish you a happy New Year 2020.
- Eben-Ezer University and partners continue to make an appeal to whoever is able to support the end of this crisis is highly appreciated.
- Humanitarian assistance is much needed to support thousands of people in need (cloths, food, shelter and medical attention.
- Join us and pray for peace of Minembwe
Contacts: Dr Lazare Sebitereko Rukundwa
Tel + 243 812 400 999 (whatsapp) / +257 75 876 705