Climate change forcing Congos pygmies to modernize.

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We loaded up backpacks with seeds, tools and salt. Our motorbikes where parked outside the GAD-office, ready to take us on the wet and muddy road, to the far outskirts of Mambasa, where civilization ends and the rainforest and wilderness begins. This is where the Mambasa-pygmies have settled down. Atleast for a couple of years, months, weeks or maybe days. These indigenous people have lived as nomadic tribes – hunter gatherers for generations, moving where there is food.
In these days frequent rebel attacks cause them to move and hide, but climate change is becoming a great and greater threat.

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To the pygmies climate changes mean decreased access to nutrients and herbs for medicine in the rainforests, as well as floods that may threaten housing. In the DRC where poverty is high – access to medicine and education are for the lucky once. The gap between the pygmies and the rest of the Congolese society, simply cannot be ignored.

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When I have visited them it is always hard to sleep at night. I really feel for them and I wish that they will be able to live the way I want to live myself. The pygmies societies have given our country a proud heritage and we ought to give them something back – the same possibilities to live a modern life, but people consider them as a different race, which leads to discrimination and isolation. Most pygmies do not go to school and they do not even know who their president is.

Despite harassment and discrimination Pygmies are getting more dependent on interaction with «the others» as the pygmies themselves call them. Over the past years, local pygmies leaders have gradually acknowledged these challenges, and they are now cooperating with GAD to become a part of the modern society – using local markets, they can sell what they grow – fighting killers like malaria with medicine,bought with money they, themselves earned. They can now also get more nutritious food from the local markets in proper housing and better hygiene. Finally GAD is planning to provide hens and goats in their new backyards, which will further increase the value of goods at the markets and provide the communities with meat, milk and eggs.

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In a country like Congo, torn by corruption, war and conflicts – there is a lot to learn from the pygmies communities – working together and sharing the little they have – are skills essential to survive.

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Helping modernize primitive communities such as the pygmies is a big responsibility – easily become an destructive cycle, we must be careful. Together with pygmies we have spent a lot time discussing hopes and dreams for the future. In 20 years time we hope to have achieved the following:

  • Access to water
  • Appeal to make money
  • Agriculture that generates a steady income
  • Proper housing
  • Education for all
  • All pygmies are aware of their rights and chores as Congolese citizens

The past few months GAD got 15 new members. They bring hope to our volunteers and the pygmies that we might reach these goals. Thank you all for supporting our work!

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Jeplock Kasika – Coordinator

GAD-DRC

A closing window – on Ebola and anxiety in our neighbourhood

Last Wednesday I got a message from the founder of Great Actions for Development (GAD), Jeplock Kasika: Dear Friend, the Ebola virus is now a threat also for the people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Our neigbouring province is attacked and fear is spreading rapidly as the UN office in Bunia reports: 32 deaths, 76 infected and 185 who are possibly infected and held isolated, he told me. There is now over  3000 recorded cases, whereas 1500 have died from the virus  in West Africa.

How could this happen, when former outbreaks have taken around two mounts to control and claimed far fewer lives? The TV-journalist and writer Lindsey Hilsom writes in her blogpost: “The disease is not the only problem. Under-development, poverty and the lack of state institutions are the problem”. As is the case in Liberia; misinformation, ignorance, conspiracy theories and patients escaping hospitals will further exacerbate the situation.

Jeplock, who lives with this threat every day, added that fear and ignorance also plays a major part in the disaster.

– People do not want to interact with strangers in case they carry the virus, he said.

– We tell people not to eat bush meat and to have good hygiene, but unfortunately the anxiety has already taken control. This does not help anyone.

Antilope meat from the rainforest in Mambasa.  (Photo: Robert Vawter)
Antilope meat from the rainforest in Mambasa. (Photo: Robert Vawter, GAD)

In the humanitarian world we talk a lot about sensitizing, which is the first step towards making a difference. Each and every one of us need to make the change, starting with our own mindset. GAD is therefore a part of an ongoing sensitizing project in the area of Province Orientale. Jeplock and the other GAD-volunteers make appeals in the local communities, send out e-mails to various institutions and pin up posters to spread awareness.

One of the poster GAD is distributing.
One of the poster GAD is distributing.

The longer the virus continues to spread, it can favor strains that allows it to spread quicker.  It´s important now, more than ever, to follow Jeplock´s example and not let feelings of fear or impotence paralyze us. Now is the opportunity to control it and it`s a global responsibility.

WHAT MUST BE DONE:

  • Education and spreading information in communities about the virus.
  • Getting people as fast into care and isolation.
  • More beds in hospitals.
  • More medial staff.
  • Better equipment.

GAD only has resources to the first, but I am convinced that a joint effort between ordinary people in Congo and Scandinavia will provide means for the latter four too. The window is still open. But as director Tom Frieden at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: that window is closing more and more.

Ragnhild Tegle

Board member, GAD