Back in Goma…and into Virunga

My 1st week at the General Hospital of Bukavu flew past and at the end of the week I’d seen some really really severe cases of malnourishment but also some children making a great improvement! On Thursday evening I met up with my friend Brandy Walker who works at Panzi hospital. The idea was to go around to hers and as far as the Congolese family I am staying with were concerned; it is in walking distance from where I am staying. So I set off on foot in search of her address but by this time it was just about to become dark…and I could not find it and no-one along the way, although all very friendly, could point me in the right direction. I was becoming slightly concerned at this point as there are no street lights and also because I was stop by 2 Congolese soldiers demanding alcohol off me which of course I didn’t have! Luckily, it was at this point that I finally found her house so just in time…not very easy to convince 2 men with guns that you don’t have any alcohol for them! I was pretty relieved, but just played totally dumb with them although to be honest was totally crapping myself!

On Saturday (11th) I took the boat back to Goma to meet up with my friend Virginia Echavarria, who works for Africa Conservation Fund who is helping the Virunga National Parks in Northern DRC by – amongst other things – implementing an alternative to charcoal to the population, most of whom are refugees (displaced due to the recent conflicts that happened in August and October) and living in and around Goma. The charcoal however is coming from Virunga Park (a UNESCO world heritage site) and is usually produced and smuggled out illegally by various militia groups operating here. Considering the fact that almost 90% of the population here is dependant on charcoal as their only means of energy for cooking and cleaning etc. the militia are generating a huge revenue from this illegal charcoal trade which not only destroys the parks but also helps to fund their operations. The alternative Virginia and her team has come up with is a organic alternative made up of organic waists (leaves, recycled paper, sawdust etc) called fuel briquettes and with this they are aiming to reduce the purchases of charcoal but also create masses of employment to the local people by training them on how to produce these briquettes by supplying them with training and equipment. These briquettes are then also distributed in and around the various refugee camps in Goma. The lack of interest in charcoal also of course means the parks could potentially be saved and a source of income to the militia groups stopped. You can read more about this here. Seeing as the Panzi Hospital thing fell through (this is the hospital outside Bukavu there they specifically treat women who are victims of war rape) I thought I’d take Virginia up on her offer of spending some time in around Goma to see all the briquette projects…so now here I am in Goma, home to ‘roads’ consisting of lava rocks (due to the closely situated Mt Nyamuragira having erupted in 2002) and potholes the size of craters, NGOs of all sorts, UN trucks (MONUC – the United Nations peace keeping operating force here in DRC and from what I’ve heard the biggest and most expensive to operate…and dust everywhere! Goma often suffers from electricity and water cuts so although I am now blessed with a shower, the water is never hot. I find Goma interesting and which I could spend more time here to explore it properly. The time I’ve spend here so far included various outings to the briquette projects in and around Goma. Today we are heading into Virunga Park…and this includes a visit to the mountain gorillas! Naturally I cannot wait and still cannot believe how fortunate I am to see these amazing beasts up close and personal, as well as meet the rangers that risks their lives on a daily basis protecting these parks (as the parks are still inhabited by militia groups). I’ll be writing about this when I’m back with some photos probably when I am back in Bukavu, but in the meantime here are some photos of the various briquette programs we visited in and around Goma.

All best

Philippa x

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