We can hear the children singing as we park our vehicle at the road’s edge. Looking down the hill, the sight is unbelievable. Hundreds of children are standing in the courtyard of the school, singing to welcome our arrival.
The Mubimbi school in the North Kivu province of eastern Congo is just down the road from a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) where MCC is working. MCC sponsors 120 school children from the IDP camp to attend this school.
In front of their teachers and fellow students, some of the IDP school children sing poems to us – MCC is the one who gives us rulers and pens and pays our school fees, they sing. The principal tells us that there is now no difference in academic performance between the children from town and the children from the camp.
Later, we visit the IDP camp itself. More than 300 families call this camp home. The homes which they fled from six years ago are two days walk away. One woman told us that she has tried to return to her village three times but had to return to the camp because the armed groups are still there and it is still not safe to return home.
MCC has helped these families to rent fields nearby to plant their own crops. MCC provides seeds, tools for cultivation, agricultural training and a three month food supplement for each family until harvest time. The goal is not only to help these families grow their own food, but for the families to save enough seeds for the next planting so that the families can begin providing their own food.
There are millions of Rwandan refugees and internally displaced Congolese in eastern Congo, but just a small portion of them are in camps like this one in Mubimbi. The large majority of Congolese who have been displaced from their homes are living with host families. Responding to this reality, MCC has begun a program that benefits both the IDP families and their hosts.
In Bweremana, a farmer of a host family shows us his field of crops and tells us he anticipates a bountiful harvest, enough to provide seeds to plant next year. MCC rented the field for him and the IDP family he is hosting. He tells us he invited another family into his home, even though his house was already full, because the family needed help, and you just can’t simply leave people outside.
This farmer’s experience will be multiplied many times over. Five hundred couples of host and IDP families are receiving rented land to cultivate, and five hundred more in six months. A spirit of generosity among host families is being rewarded.
Ron Byler is executive director of Mennonite Central Committee U.S. He was in eastern Congo in late April.