WCARO DR CONGO
A life-line little Banza in Katanga province, DRC
It was in July. Mukalayi Banza was returning from his farm at the end of the day. He saw the horrifying scene as he came close to his small village, Kincha, in north Katanga province. The loud cries and wailing of the people reached him when he was about half a kilometre away. No one could tell him exactly what had happened, absorbed as they were in salvaging what they could from the ruins. All the houses were up in flames and people spread out on the ground. He hurried home to find his family, almost all of them, lying dead – his wife and three children. Only his youngest son, aged four months, had survived the massacre.
When Mukalayi left home that morning to go to his farm, there was no indication that such a thing was going to happen. For months on end, Kincha had been tormented by the fallout of conflict between various factions and the national armed forces trying to root out militia. Men in uniform and maï-maï rebels would often come in search of food and harass villagers in the process. Helpless, he and his fellow villagers looked on as these men stole, raped and committed acts of violence against their wives and children. They did not know where to turn for redress, and the perpetrators carried on with blatant impunity.
Mukalayi sensed imminent danger. He grabbed his son and headed for the bushes to escape. He stayed in the bushes for six months. “It is difficult for me to tell you what we ate. Our mainstay was the cassava I took from abandoned farms. I would marsh the same meal into porridge which l gave to my son. I uprooted small wild plants and complemented our meal with insects. There was no drinking water. Sometimes we drank from springs, but we often used water from the river,” he confides.
“It was an imposed diet, poor in protein and vitamin, and not at all suited to the needs of a baby. It contributed to the deteriorating health of all the children. The conditions were very bad: no shelter, cold weather. l could not provide enough care for my son. He was exposed to all sorts of diseases. We lived in perpetual fear.”
One day Mukalayi met a group of displaced people who convinced him to go to Mitwaba. They had heard that humanitarian assistance could be obtained there. He arrived in Mitwaba, where tens of thousands of people had already congregated, in May 2006. Because of his son’s poor health condition, he was immediately directed to the therapeutic nutrition centre managed by Action contre la Faim (ACF), a UNICEF-supported NGO, which provides intensive care to critically malnourished children. UNICEF supplies the medicines, specially fortified milk, blankets, soap and other items.
At 12 months, Banza hardly weighed 3.1 kg. “The child came to us in a critical state. He could neither eat nor move, and was visibly in pain. We immediately examined him to check his state of dehydration and provided the care and food he required for the first four days.”
Three weeks later, Banza’s health began to improve. He is still under intensive care to make sure that his little body is able to overcome infections and, more importantly, that he regains appetite, so that food supplements can gradually be added to his diet. Little Banza. He cannot even crawl, but he is able to smile once again and does recognize his father and the people around him. Each day he shows new signs of a slow but sure improvement. His life is no longer in danger.
Banza is lucky. Many other children did not survive their prolonged refuge in the bushes. With negotiations going on between the government and the maï-maï militias, more and more displaced people are now making their way to Mitwaba in anticipation of some assistance. UNICEF provides cooking utensils, blankets, jerrycans, soap, plastic sheets etc. This is crucial before they eventually return to their original villages. Since January 2005, UNICEF has assisted monthly some 120,000 displaced people in the DRC.
© UNICEF DRC/Pirozzi