DR Congo, August 23, 2007

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matthew De Galan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Francine's parents were killed in the war last year. Photo: Matthew De Galan/Mercy Corps

Spent today conducting assessment surveys with Fernand, one of our Congolese staff. Basically, this means going door to door and asking people 61 questions ranging from how much money they earn and what they eat each day to where they go for health care. We'll use the data we collect from 500 interviews to help design our program.

Fernand and I were walking through a shaded part of Mugunga when we found our next subject. Francine Ancirite. Beautiful, with a sad beautiful smile. She is 17, and if she was in the US she'd be running for homecoming queen this fall. When we find her she is sitting in the yard, chatting with some neighbors, older women, mothers. Young children run around the yard, playing - beautiful kids. Are they Francine's? No, surely she is too young. Slowly, we walk her through the questionnaire and get her story.

Last November, just north of here near the town of Sake, fighting erupted between the Congolese army and troops loyal to the renegade General Laurent Nkunda. Nkunda was threatening to take Goma. Somewhere in the middle of the fighting, there was an atrocity in Sake and dozens of civilians were killed. Among them were Francine's parents, who have a piece of land near there - this is only 7 miles up the road from Mugunga. At age 16, Francine suddenly found herself in charge of 4 children, three of them under five. It is a heavy burden. She seems tired, listless, sad, perhaps traumatized. She left school after her parents' death so she could watch the children. Her siblings also left school, unable to afford the cost of books, uniforms and the $3 monthly tuition.

What are her hopes, we ask? Does she want to go back to school, get married? She is realistic. School is impossible. Marriage unlikely - who will want to buy into 4 young children? Her hope is to start some "petit commerce" - sell things along the main Goma road, which runs just outside her house. Proximity to the road, it seems, is her one piece of luck.

When I got back I looked through the survey, looking for clues, insights, a bit of reality there in the data. Here's what one learns:

Question 14: Did you eat anything yesterday morning? No. We skipped the meal.
Question 15: Did you eat anything yesterday at midday? No. There was no food.
Question 16: Did you eat anything yesterday in the evening? Yes. Manioc, corn and peas.
Question 18: How many times per week to you eat animal protein? 0.
Question 19: How long do your food stocks last? N/A. We have no food stocks.
Question 20: List your sources of revenue for the household: Agricultural day worker, 400 francs/day (about 80 cents).
Question 26: In the last six months, have you borrowed or been given any money? Yes. 1000 francs to feed my brothers and sisters.
Question 34: What livestock or fowls do you possess? None.
Question 38: Do you have access to the quantity of water that you need? No. Because we have to pay and our means are insufficient.