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DRC: In search of older people

03 Mar 2009

Benedicte Vene is a communications consultant who was sent to the DR Congo on a mission to find out why there are so few older people in the displacment camps in Goma and how they are surviving...

Bright lights, wide eyed. I didn't get much sleep between excitement and apprehension, unresolved worries I know I leave behind and my considerate neighbours who came crash-bang back at 3am...

Never mind, I'll get there nice and early, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and start reading the mountain of printed info on the two Congo wars I'm dragging with me.

Heathrow's jammed and I just about make it onto the plane without breakfast. Then we wait, and we wait a couple of hours before take off.

I'm going to Goma, capital of North Kivu, the war torn province of DR Congo right on the border with Rwanda. Deadly ongoing infighting regularly makes the news.

I think I know what's waiting for me; the country, the people, ‘la guerre'. With two full-on wars and a devastating volcano eruption since I was last there in '94, Goma is unlikely to have changed much but I know it's going to engulf me.

Ensuring the needs of older people

HelpAge is setting up an office there working closely with Merlin. Sarah and Marbey, two old-hand humanitarians with CV's like timelines of modern world conflicts are waiting for me. (They're not that old).

They want to ensure the needs of older people are taken into account in all humanitarian planning, be it during emergency relief, through direct operational programmes or long term protection and advocacy... they are going to work with other aid agencies, the UN and even possibly local Congolese authorities to ensure older people are cared for appropriately and their special needs and requirements considered as are those of children and women.

In search of older people

Problem is, there aren't that many older people currently in the displaced camps. Not in proportion with the rest of the population. According to Marbey's last report for example, out of more than 23,500 people in the camp in Kibumba north of Goma, there are only 205 older people (60 years old or over).

My mission is to find out where the older people are and understand how they survive if they've not made it to displaced camps following rebel attacks on their villages. I will also find out about the special role they play in a country were so many children are orphaned by war, aids or malaria.

There's also the vital role they play within their communities helping in the rehabilitation and integration of child soldiers. Personally, I'm also curious to find out what it's like to live your entire life in a war zone.

Despite the huge flight delays and near miss change over in Nairobi, I (and my bags incredibly) make it to Kigali, capital of Rwanda. It's late, I'm tired and very alone in a rundown hotel room.

Read more about HelpAge's work in DR Congo.

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Author profile

Sarah Marzouk
Country: UK
Job title: Digital Communications

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