CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a Central African country impacted by a long history of violence. Following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, perpetrators fled Rwanda’s borders and entered the DRC, forming armed groups. The presence of armed groups led to the start of a war. Between 1998 and 2003, the DRC’s government joined forces with other regional governments, such as Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, to fight the rebels supported by Rwanda and Uganda. In 2002, the combatants reached a peace agreement, but violence against civilians still remains a problem in the DRC. Christophe’s Children is an organization that aims to provide relief to children in the DRC.
A Legacy of Violence
The legacy of violence in the region is disrupting development in DRC. The country has endured a significant amount of conflict within its borders since 1998. Internal conflict interferes with the development of nations and the completion of most of the Millenium Development Goals. The DRC’s development statistics demonstrate the impact of violence on the nation’s development.
The DRC has the third-highest population of people living in poverty worldwide and the Human Development Index (HDI) ranks the DRC 176th in the world for development. The global COVID-19 pandemic presents further developmental delays. The conflict and violence in the DRC have the potential to impact neighboring states, such as Uganda and Burundi, putting more people at risk of enduring the impacts of long-term violence. A recent increase in Ebola virus cases also contributes to the recent stagnation in economic development.
Impacting Vulnerable Populations
Conflict and violence disproportionately impact children living in the DRC, with about 42% of Congolese children younger than 5 suffering from stunting due to malnourishment. The impact of the violence is particularly profound for girls. Gender-based violence (GBV), another significant issue in the country, disproportionately impacts children, with girls accounting for 47% of GBV survivors in the DRC. Teenage girls experience pregnancy at a higher rate than teenagers in other parts of the world, with the DRC ranking the 7th highest in the world in relation to teenage pregnancies. The high rate of teen pregnancies makes girls in the DRC more vulnerable to child marriage. Young, married girls experience difficulties accessing education and employment opportunities and experience abuse at higher rates.
It is difficult for the DRC’s government to provide relief to children in the DRC for several reasons. The inability of DRC’s government to maintain order makes civilians vulnerable to experiencing further violence. The fact that most births in the country go unregistered also presents a significant challenge for the government to keep children safe as it cannot identify most children born within the DRC’s borders.
Organizations play a critical role in providing relief to children in the DRC. Christophe’s Children, a nonprofit organization based in the U.S. state of Michigan and Kalehe, DRC, is currently providing vital relief on the ground in the DRC. Founded in 2021 by Christophe Muganza, an American from the DRC who came to the United States as a refugee in 2013, and Michael Sytsma, Christophe’s Children supports orphaned children in Kalehe. Kalehe is in the Eastern DRC, a region of the country where more than 100 militant groups actively operate.
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Muganza says, “In the middle of my trip to Kalehe, my home village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I found orphaned homeless children living and sleeping in the streets. I was heartbroken. I felt that I had to act.” Gathering donations from the local community, he “found an empty storage building” to use as “temporary shelter.” Muganza also purchased food that he gave “to two women who volunteered to [take]care of the children.” This is the story of how Christophe’s Children began.
After Muganza returned to the United States, he and Sytsma worked with Barnes & Thornburg LLP to establish a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Christophe’s Children works with partners in the United States as well as local organizations in Kalehe, such as churches, to support 27 children. The organization hopes to support more children in the future.
Vision and Long-Term Goals
“Our vision includes creating a permanent, owned building to house Christophe’s Children. The planned building will expand the number of children served from 27 to approximately 60. The success of expansion will provide additional opportunities to partner with other individuals and local, caring groups,” Sytsma tells The Borgen Project when asked about the organization’s long-term goals.
Christophe’s Children provides relief to children in the DRC in a variety of ways. The children in the organization’s care receive housing, healthcare and education, which the children did not have access to after the deaths of their parents. In the shelter, the children live and operate as a family. Children do their homework and chores together, creating a supportive community where they can recover emotionally and find a sense of belonging.
Christophe’s Children may provide relief for other vulnerable members of the Kalehe community in the future. Speaking on the organization’s long-term goals, Muganza says that he wants to see the nonprofit “open a skill development training center, not only for children but also for other vulnerable members of the community (widows and all victims of war).” In this training center, people “can learn different types of skills” ranging from sewing and construction to agriculture and farm animal breeding, With this training, the aim is for people “to become productive members of society, improving the local economy and the overall health of the community.”
Nonprofits such as Christophe’s Children provide valuable relief to children in the DRC and provide them with a brighter tomorrow.
– Caroline Kuntzman