On behalf of CAFOD and our overseas partners, may we wish everyone in the Diocese of Middlesbrough a happy and blessed 2009. We also want to say a very big thank you to you for your prayers and generosity throughout 2008, particularly for your response to the crisis being experienced by the people of the Congo. With your help CAFOD raised well over £1m making a total to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal of £4m and we were very quickly able to provide people with basic essentials.

photo of CAFOD project

Some of the worst of the recent escalation of violence in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo took place in Rutshuru. During that time, huge camps of tens of thousands of displaced people in Rutshuru completely emptied, leaving behind only the eerie sight of empty tents and burnt plots. The question was, where did all the people go? On Monday 24th November, the first humanitarian assistance finally reached this remote location, taking blankets, cooking pots, soap and watercans to people in desperate need. Here’s a short report.

CAFOD through its partner Caritas Goma and working alongside the UN’s World Food programme – has been distributing basic foodstuffs – cooking oil, sugar, salt and maize.

A cheer of delight went up around the crowd; the first overladen truck of desperately needed humanitarian assistance was rumbling into the rural village of Ntamugenga. Around ten kilometres from the town of Rutshuru, the territory around this small village was rocked by some of the heaviest armed activity during the recent flare of fighting in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hundreds of thousands of people fled for a second time, from camps they were already living in. Some ended up in rural areas, sheltering with strangers in villages. Isolated for many weeks, they had no help, and the situation became desperate. ‘Since the last of the food I had was finished, we have collected grass to eat. Can you imagine, one month living on grass?’ Mazirane Nzahera tells me, tutting and shaking her head sadly. ‘Bombs were falling on the camp, too many people died, including three of my neighbours. I left with nothing but the clothes you see me wearing.’

On Monday 24th November, assistance from CAFOD and local church partner Caritas Goma finally reached Mazirane and 12,000 others, taking clothes, blankets, cooking pots, soap, and watercans to people in desperate need. Bishop of Goma, Faustin Ngabu, was the first to hand over a blanket to an elderly lady at the front of the long queue. Holding a megaphone, he addressed the massing crowd, saying humbly: ‘I know what CAFOD and Caritas Goma have brought today will not remove all of your suffering, but we hope it will alleviate some of it.’ As Bishop of Goma for more than 35 years, Bishop Ngabu has seen all of the long conflict that has afflicted the population in his care. He says: ‘Caritas Goma has confronted difficult situations but, unlike others, the Church cannot leave the people. I would say to the people of England and Wales that supporting us through CAFOD is one way to express their love and communion with their brothers and sisters in trouble here in Congo.’

Michel Monginda, CAFOD humanitarian officer, has been working in Goma for four years, and told me that, although the situation is currently calmer, thousands in remote areas still have not been reached and need our help. For Mazirane, the future is uncertain, ‘I’m very afraid, I have nothing to eat in my village, and I don’t know if we will continue to get humanitarian assistance. Our trust is in God.’

Please remember the people of the Congo and the work of CAFOD in your prayers. You can make a donation to CAFOD by telephoning our donations hotline on 0500 858885 or at www.cafod.org.uk
CAFOD Middlesbrough, 54 Blossom Street, York, YO24 1AP. Tel (01904) 671767, email middlesbrough@cafod.org.uk