In September, I went into the Masisi territory (North Kivu) to meet the beneficiaries of UNICEF’s “Alternative Responses to Communities in Crisis” programme.
Although I knew about their situation from status reports published by humanitarian organisations, I only really understood how serious it was when I heard them speak. Most of them were displaced persons who had had to flee the fighting between armed militias; on their return, they found no trace of their former lives. The simplicity of their words shook me.
Imagine: Taking a decision that your life depends on. Trying to save what you can in a suitcase that is too small. Walking 10 to 20 km in search of some precarious refuge. Living in the most difficult conditions imaginable. Coming home to find nothing but houses burned to ashes and devastated fields. Being unable to meet your own basic needs; lacking clothing, and relying on the goodwill of neighbours for food and shelter.
In response to these situations, which sadly recur only too frequently in the DRC, the humanitarian community has long chosen to provide food and essential items, which did not necessarily meet the needs and expectations of victims of humanitarian crises.
In conjunction with its partners, UNICEF is seeking to develop alternative approaches such as non-food item fairs and cash-based assistance, in order to restore independence to the beneficiaries.
With the help of NGO Concern Worldwide, beneficiaries in the Masisi territory have received this cash-based assistance in two forms: coupons (allowing them to make purchases), and cash in hand.
Many have chosen to use this windfall to reintegrate their children in school, to buy livestock (pigs, goats), agricultural tools, kitchen utensils, clothing, and equipment to rebuild their homes .
In Mushubangabo, Coletta Luando is one of those who has used her coupons to send her children to school. The cash has enabled her to start farming pigs and to open her own business.
In the village of Butasheke, Eugénie Balingene has made similar choices: with the coupons she was able to pay for her two children’s state exams, and she was patient enough to put the money towards building a new house.
In my photos of the beneficiaries, I have tried to capture the sense of dignity that emanated from them. I am not sure that I have done them justice.
Within the framework of the ARCC (“Alternative Responses for Communities in Crisis”) programme financed by UKAid and dating from 2011, UNICEF and its partners are using cash-based assistance (coupons or cash) as a humanitarian response to the victims of the instability in eastern DRC, including displaced, returned and host families.
The second round of the ARCC programme was put in place from October 2013 to February 2015 in three territories in North Kivu (Masisi, Rutshuru, Beni) and two in Province Orientale (Djugu and Dungu), with the aim of boosting the well-being and resilience of households affected by the humanitarian crisis in eastern DRC.
Cash-based assistance to beneficiaries can take several forms:
Distribution of vouchers to be used in fairs and open markets: Beneficiaries of aid receive vouchers that they can spend within a set period with pre-identified traders.
Distribution of cash: The beneficiaries go to the partner organisation’s office on market day with their beneficiary card to receive an envelope containing money provided for them to make their purchases.
Distribution of money via mobile phone operators, or microcredit cooperatives: this method, still experimental in the Democratic Republic of Congo, involves transferring money to the telephone accounts of the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries then have two options: they can either transfer money directly to the trader’s mobile bank account (if he or she has one), or withdraw the sum in cash from the mobile phone operators. This method has the advantage of discretion and security.