Article by Sinziana Demian/The IRC, Photo: Dieudonne Bahiga/The IRC
Ask Josephine Selembe about the most remarkable thing that ever happened in her village, and she will not waver: “Tuungane!” is her answer.
Several men and women gathered around Josephine nod in agreement, while proudly pointing to what the Tuungane programme actually helped them build. A brand new marketplace now stands in a region where before there was no central place for local residents to trade and purchase essential household wares.
The Tuungane programme (in the local Swahili language it means ‘let’s unite’) launched in 2007 to give selected communities in Eastern Congo the power to choose and design their preferred development projects such as building or renovating schools, markets health centres, hospitals, roads, wells, and springs. Funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and implemented by the IRC in partnership with CARE, the programme awarded grants ranging from £2,000 to £45,000 to communities, to bring the projects to fruition. Across three neighbouring provinces – Katanga, South Kivu and Maniema – covering an area of roughly 275,000 square miles with very limited infrastructure, some 1,800 villages and groupings of villages directly benefitted from this massive community-driven reconstruction programme.
“The concrete achievements of the Tuungane programme are undeniable and extensive,” said Linda Ehrichs, the IRC’s Tuungane Programme Director. “And yet what communities appreciate most is how Tuungane places their participation at the centre.”
After taking part in Tuungane for the past couple of years, Josephine’s community, located in Congo’s southern province of Katanga, completed its £34,000 market project early this spring. The spacious, attractive marketplace sits up on a small hill in the middle of the village. “We decided to build this marketplace to avoid walking for hours into town,” explains Josephine. “Now women can stay longer at home and take care of their families. When they want to sell or buy something it’ll be close and easy. We also hope to get people from other places to come and trade here.”
Josephine says she is grateful to Tuungane for giving women and young people a voice in the decision-making process. “Tuungane really deserves its name,” she said. “Everyone gathered to discuss what to do for the benefit of the community. It was all new for us: how to work together to choose our project, and especially how to design and manage such a big undertaking.”
Stories of how Tuungane helped improve social infrastructure and empower communities are heard in many other parts of Eastern Congo. In Nkanga, South Kivu, villagers were thrilled to build a water capture system which will spare women from carrying water on their heads for up to six miles every day. “It was our wives and daughters who came up with this suggestion,” said Jackson Mbele, one of the elected members on the village committee charged with overseeing the project. “Listening to the women was not something we were used to here. But they were right! We now have clean water just near our houses. It’s something we could not even have dreamt of before Tuungane arrived.”
To be approved, all project proposals identified by communities underwent feasibility tests, which measured their compliance with DR Congo norms and gauged whether they could be successfully realised given the Tuungane budget allocation and other constraints. In the vast majority of cases, communities received the green light for their top choices. Under the IRC’s guidance, they went on to identify the entrepreneurs and suitable service providers. They then managed the construction process themselves. Thousands of projects have been completed thus far, most often in the areas of education, water and sanitation, and health.
Tuungane recently started running its expanded second phase, which incorporates a fourth province – North Kivu. Before its conclusion in 2014, the programme will have reached an estimated 3.4 million people in over 2,100 villages.
“Rather than receiving another distribution, communities go through a process whereby they think critically, prioritise and learn by doing,” said Ehrichs. “It is through these aspects that the IRC aims to have long-lasting influence on the communities in which it works.”