The Grand Master in Bukavu, theatre of clashes and violence
The journey of the Order of Malta’s Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued Thursday through Sunday in Bukavu, on the Rwanda border, where he visited the social-health activities run since 1996 by Malteser International, the Order’s International Relief Corps. Received by the regional governor, the Grand Master met the local administrators with whom he discussed the living conditions of the population who have suffered serious and repeated aggression during the clashes of recent years.
Crowds of people welcomed the Grand Master at every stage of his visit. They sang, danced, offered gifts of local craftsmanship and words of heartfelt gratitude for the Order’s work in a still extremely unstable region, where peace and security are threatened every day. Notwithstanding the official end to five years of war in 2003 – with over five million dead – the conflicts between the regular Congolese army and non-governmental militias of ex-soldiers and tribal groups are provoking raids and looting with consequent massacres and violence to civilians.
This is why Malteser International currently supports 350 medical units and 30 food distribution centres in the region, cooperating with the dioceses and dozens of organizations to help the afflicted population. Thanks to the dedication of the Order of Malta’s International Relief Corps, some two and a half million people have access to health care (mostly basic treatment and malaria prevention) in the areas of south Kivu, Ituri and Haut Eélé, Mulungu and in Kaziba. The programme offers vaccination campaigns and medical and psychological assistance to the victims of sexual violence as well as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS patients. There is also a strong focus on food security: years of tensions and clashes have considerably reduced the region’s agricultural capacities and the population continually suffers from malnourishment. Particularly important are the reconstruction works on roads and bridges that Malteser International alone is implementing in this region of the world. An efficient road network is fundamental for bringing humanitarian assistance to people in the more remote rural areas and for facilitating access to medicines, hospitals, markets and towns..
Accompanied by the president of Malteser International Nicolas de Cock de Rameyen, vice president Thierry de Beaumont-Beynac and secretary general Ingo Radtke, Fra’ Matthew Festing also met international and local staff of the Order’s relief corps. ‘The entire Order of Malta thanks you for your work and admires what you do every day,’ the Grand Master said during the meeting in Malteser International’s headquarters in Bukavu. ‘We are profoundly grateful and proud of you’.
The assistance provided to women and young girls, victims of the sexual violence systematically carried out by the armed militia, is of great social impact. In a country where around 5% of the population is HIV positive, the Order’s health centres provide prophylaxis for HIV infection within 72 hours of the aggression, tests and gynaecological assistance to pregnant women as well as information on prevention. Over 35 thousand women have been assisted to date, but it is estimated that only 10% of these crimes are reported. Thanks to Malteser International’s advocacy actions, a national law was approved last year in which rape is defined as a criminal offence.
Fra’ Matthew Festing focused on some of these projects during his visit on Friday morning, and in particular in Kaniola – Nzibira where the main local facilities have been re-established and humanitarian and medical assistance provided. On Saturday he inaugurated the renovated part of the general hospital on Idjwj, the largest lake island in the world, with a population of over 200,000 who have great difficulty in accessing health care services. The work was implemented by the Order of Malta’s Belgian Association with the contribution of the Belgian government.
On Sunday there was a meeting with the local bishops, before leaving for Nairobi where the Kenyan authorities await the Grand Master for the third stage of his visit to Africa.