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DR Congo volunteers help give back to nature
05 March 2007

Some 120,000 plants, including fruits such as mango (pictured), were given new homes in one of the most impoverished areas in the DRC city of Lubumbashi. (Treenbean/ 120,000 plants, including fruits such as mango (pictured), were given new homes in one of the most impoverished areas in the DRC city of Lubumbashi. (Treenbean/
Lubumbashi, DR Congo : The United Nations’ current largest mission is far from complete. In the Democratic Republic of Congo more than 17,000 MONUC peacekeepers are paving the way for 62 million citizens to play an active role in their own governance.

However the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is doing much more than helping to stabilise the political process in this central African nation; three National UNV volunteers in the southern city of Lubumbashi are now spearheading a movement to give back to nature what was taken from it earlier.

Local environments were severely damaged during the fighting from 1996 to 2002. With little money or work, the impoverished populace was forced to denude the forests for fuel and income. With support from UN Volunteers and funding from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Grant Facility, Lazare N. Beya, Benjamin Kazadi and Jules Nkulu of Congo have pioneered a reforestation project “Lutte contre la pauvreté par l’amélioration du cadre de vie à travers l’arbre” (Fighting poverty by improving lives through forestry). This meets the MDGs of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1) and ensuring environmental stability (MDG 7) in the Lubumbashi district of Kalebuka.

The volunteers are assigned to the Food and Agriculture Organization and collaborated with the implementation agency “Association pour l’Animation et l’Education au Développment” (Association for Mobilisation and Education in Development) to set up a nursery last summer in Kalebuka, one of the poorest areas of Lubumbashi. There, avocado, orange, mango, papaya and lemon seedlings were cultivated along with varieties like acacias and eucalyptuses for later transplantation.

On International Volunteer Day, 5 December 2006, and simultaneously International Tree Day, a ceremony was held at the nursery where 300 volunteers - 75 percent of whom were women - began fetching the 112,000 seedlings for planting in four villages of Lubumbashi.

“The impact of the poverty project on the villages is already perceptible,” said UNV volunteer James Nkulu. “Volunteerism can transform people. You could see the passion in the volunteers’ behaviour when we distributed the seedlings. Some walked or rode bicycles over 3 kilometres to get a seedling. People from provinces far away heard about the project on the radio and began asking if a similar program couldn’t be started there. The response has simply been incredible.”

The significance of the day for the people of Lubumbashi could not be missed. Chiefs from four villages attended the ceremony as well as regional and city development officials. In all, some 1,800 people associated with the project, from planting and tending the infant trees to getting the message of the project out on radio, were in attendance.

The fruit trees, which have been planted in gardens, four school yards, a senior citizens home, and unutilized community land, will improve the livelihood of some of the most impoverished families in the city of 1.2 million people. Not only will the trees provide a potential source of food and income, they have already helped unite the community, fostering responsibility and ownership in villages whose residents have felt little chance to direct their lives.

“The children from the four schools have taken the seedlings on as their own. They protect, water and even talk to them,” said Mr Nkulu. “The volunteer experience has acted as a bond between the children. When the roof of the Shaloom school was blown away in a storm, it was the kids from three other schools who came to their aid.  They helped carry bricks and sheeting to repair the school and temporarily yielded their classrooms to the Shaloom kids.”

Adults have also been moved to co-operate more closely as a result of the project. Many women banded together to form small associations. They buy and sell local fruit juices, chickens and other agricultural produce. Now they want to go one step further and open bank accounts at a micro-credit bank.

“The success stories created by the enthusiasm and creative thinking of the three national UNV volunteers Messrs Beya, Kazadi and Nkulu have again shown, just how strong the spirit of volunteerism is, and how contagious it can be – from young to old, women and men, poor and not so poor,” said UNV DRC Programme Officer Snjezana Tadic.