Several dozen women stand on jagged volcanic rock in the pouring rain. The drenched clothes they're wearing are among the only possessions they were able to salvage when fleeing burning homes and brutal violence. They've had to drink rainwater from dirty puddles just to survive.
Young sons are the only men to be found; husbands and fathers have perished in the war. And so, in the midst of eastern Congo's ongoing conflict, shattered families led by mothers have come to places like this: a primary school on the outskirts of a war-torn city called Goma.
Odette Bihoyoki is one of approximately one million people who have been displaced by fierce fighting between government troops and rebel forces in this lawless, chaotic region. The 34-year-old mother of six was forced from her home more than seven months ago, but not before soldiers killed her 4-year-old son and tossed his body into a latrine.
There was no time to grieve. She walked for four days from her village to a sprawling displacement camp to the north of Goma — but, within days of their arrival, gunshots tore through the camp as rebel forces pushed south. Odette and her children scrambled for their lives alongside hundreds of others, eventually finding refuge at this school. They live in the classrooms at night.
But, when class is in session, they have no place to go. So they sit and wait — sometimes in the rain. Since they don't live in an officially recognized displacement camp, they don't receive supplies like food, clothing or shelter supplies. They were completely on their own until Mercy Corps reached out to them last October.
Today, we're delivering more than 10,000 gallons of water per day to the 178 families living here. We've given them hygiene supplies and other small household items to help make their lives a little easier. And we're digging latrines nearby to help prevent the deadly diseases that often sweep through displaced populations in this part of Congo.
Mercy Corps has even found ways to employ women like Odette in the short term — giving them a bit of income to buy food.
"I thank Mercy Corps for providing us water, so we don't have to buy it or drink from dirty puddles," Odette said. "It's one less thing we have to worry about."
Worry — and uncertainty — stalks these places every day. There are not only concerns about how to feed their children, but what the future holds. And in this part of Congo, that has been unclear for more than a decade.
"I know very little about hope," Odette laments, "but I want a better future for my children."
You can help us meet their immediate needs — and begin to secure a more hopeful future — with a generous donation today. Life for women like Odette in eastern Congo is about survival. Please help us deliver more lifesaving assistance to those who need it most.