I am currently in eastern DRC visiting our work among refugee returnee communities. I had an opportunity to meet with a milling group that we helped establish in 2008 with funding from BPRM*: FH provided this group with a mill and some basic tools, along with training in mill maintenance, business skills, etc. During this same year of funding, we supported the start-up of other income generating groups, including sewing, fishing, bread-making and soap-making.
I visited with these groups in 2009 when they were just starting up, and to be honest, I was not too optimistic that they would continue after FH’s support ended. The main challenge was that these communities had just returned from living for years in refugee camps in neighboring countries where all their needs were provided, only to have to return to homes that were destroyed in the war – with very few resources. I recall many of the groups asking why FH was not just providing them with the food they needed to survive, as the benefits of income generation schemes would not be felt for many months. I remember my colleague, Sara, telling them that we had very little money and were hoping that this small investment would multiply and be fruitful, if they were willing to take the initiative to see that happen.
Anyway, I was very pleased to meet with a few members of one of the milling groups we supported in 2008/09 and to see that they are indeed thriving – praise God! Here is a summary of the situation:
There are 20 group members (12 women and 8 men) living in Tabac Village, Kalemie Territory, Katanga Province, Eastern DRC. These families were repatriated to Tabac from refugee camps in neighboring countries in 2007/08. They had no source of income and were surviving on packages received from the UN and other humanitarian assistance. In late 2008, with funds received from BPRM, FH supplied them with a mill for grinding maize and cassava, other supplies such as fuel, and both technical and business training.
The mill serves Tabac and surrounding communities. They receive 800 francs ($US 0.90) per 10kg of flour, and today their monthly income can be as high as 200,000 francs ($US 220), of which 100,000 is set aside for repairs and the salary of the miller who was hired to grind the flour. About 50,000 is reinvested, and the remaining 50,000 is divided among the group members to use for personal household needs.
They see the greatest benefit that has been reaped is the diversification of their livelihood. With the income from the mill, they have been able to purchase small livestock (goats and chickens), they are jointly cultivating land with cash crops (cassava and palm trees for making oil), and they hope to diversify further as the income continues to grow.
It really was encouraging to see how a small investment on FH’s part can reap such lasting effects, especially when the community are fully engaged and take full ownership of their own development.
Leena Samuel, Emergency Response Unit, Food for the Hungry.
* PRM: US Government’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration