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DRC crisis: Older people and a lifetime of conflict

27 Nov 2012

An older displaced woman with her grandchildren outside her tent. (c) Gacheru Maina/HelpAge InternationalIn August, I visited the HelpAge office in Goma, DRC. What struck me immediately was the tight security around the town. I realised that people there live with extreme caution.

During my visit, I went to Mugunga refugee camp. I had never visited a refugee camp before and I had no preconceived notions of what I would see.

Violence destabilises normal life

We took a walk around the camp, which is located on volcanic rock. It was really unsettling to walk on and I could not imagine how older people slept on that ground. The tents provided were a humbling testament of how violence destabilises normal life.

I met bed-ridden people, older people with disabilities, older carers of orphaned children, all wishing for a better life. It was sad to see them resigned to the fact that the camp was home for them.

I can't help but think of them now as violence takes over the region again, creating more and more refugees and increasing the number of dependents on the few rations available.

Food distributions

The day I was there was food distribution day and women and children were gathered around eagerly awaiting their rations. Luckily, due to HelpAge's intervention, older people do not have to queue with the other people and have their food rationed separately.

I met an older woman who had received about one kilo of maize as her food rations. With this she had to feed herself and three grandchildren for about a week, maybe two.

Now I wonder if there will still be separate queues for older people. Will the older woman caring for three orphans get even less to feed her family?

The other older people I met at the HelpAge recreation centre talked about their frustrations. Most have known nothing but violence and insecurity for their entire lives.

They had grown up in different parts of DRC but had to seek refuge in Goma after fleeing their homes. Over the course of their lives they have lost everything; their homes, jobs and families.

Read more about our work in DRC.

Read our news story on the current crisis in DRC.

Your comments

Roger Segawa

I wonder, are the older carers given more food? Are they given larger tents? I cannot imagine this kind of life...but it's true...I remember when I was growing up, I always had this wonderful impression of DRC because of the Lingala videos with happy women and men dancing all over the streets...I imagine this is no more. Thank God the rebels agreed to withdraw and pull out of Goma. Let us pray the community (especially older persons) gets back their peace.

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Author profile


Gacheru Maina
Country: Kenya
Job title: Regional communications officer, HelpAge

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.