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Dem. Republic of Congo: entrepreneurial bicyclists
February 27, 2014

Dem. Republic of Congo: entrepreneurial bicyclists
The latest Jesuit Refugee Service project offers residents in Nzulo camp in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo an opportunity to buy bicycles to start their businesses. (Paulo Welter S.J. — Jesuit Refugee Service)
"The aim is to help, in a small way at first, to reduce hunger by ensuring economic self-reliance. Some income can also bring hope. It is a way of restoring dignity,” said Fr Paulo.

(Goma) February 27, 2014 — Many people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo move from camp to camp in search of safety. This repeated displacement disrupts lives, support networks and family ties. Access to the land is hindered, as is their ability to earn a living.

Trying to bring stability to people in these circumstances has become a major focus of Jesuit Refugee Service in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). One step in this direction has been to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nzulo camp in the eastern city of Goma by providing microcredit to enable them to establish small business activities. Teams provide loans to IDPs to buy bikes that they can use to transport coal, food and water to and from the camp.

The activities began at the end of 2013, following the presentation of the first bicycles to participants in Nzulo camp.

"Each bicycle is worth the equivalent of $80. The participants selected for the program will progressively pay back the cost,” said JRS DRC Director Paulo Welter S.J.

The entrepreneurs will aim to maintain weekly payments of $4. "In this way, these entrepreneurs will clear any debt after twenty weeks and gain ownership of the bicycle,” added Fr Paulo.

North Kivu. In other areas of North Kivu, such as Masisi and Mweso, JRS livelihood activities include workshops in tailoring, baking, carpentry and weaving skills.

"Life for IDPs is difficult because we live in land which is not ours. We left our fields so food is the most difficult thing to find. We also abandoned school because we lack school fees. Here in Congo there is much hardship because we have all become displaced. I was a child soldier. I think this one reason why people become bandits because they lack work, so they take up arms,” explained François*, one of the participants.

"Goma is situated at the foot of Nyiragongo volcano. As such, the ground in the area is very rocky, making transportation of basic goods a tiresome task. Bicycles are a great help. It isn't easy work, but it is an income,” said Joseph Mbabazi, the JRS DRC Focal Point for Advocacy. 

With a population of 7,000, Nzulo camp has welcomed more than 2,000 internally displaced persons in the last few months.

The military defeat of the rebel M23 Movement in November 2013 has brought tentative stability to some districts, but many areas remain unstable due to the presence of numerous other armed groups. Moreover, local populations continue to fear the sporadic attacks by the M23.

"Some people are returning to their home districts. Others choose to stay,” said Mr. Mbabazi.

Inspiration. The idea for the microcredit initiative around Goma came to Paulo after he won a bicycle in a competition.

"It inspired me to reflect on the uses of a bicycle, especially for transportation and earning a little something. The aim is to help, in a small way at first, to reduce hunger by ensuring economic self-reliance. Some income can also bring hope. It is a way of restoring dignity,” continued Fr Paulo.

Sponsors from Paulo's home in Brazil have secured the purchase of thirty more bicycles. As the number increases, the scheme will expand to other camps around Goma. 

The selection of participants was undertaken in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

"I invite all participants to ensure they use this opportunity to its full potential. IOM will be glad to assist JRS in the monitoring of the activity,” said IOM Congo representative Flora Camain in a speech in Nzulo.

The entrepreneurs have now completed six weeks of the repayment schedule, and all the participants, according to Mr Mbabazi, are on track.

"Such activities foster self-respect and autonomy. We hope to do more in this area to help displaced persons avoid apathy and create employment,” said Mr. Mbabazi.

François is optimistic that he can use his skills to benefit both himself and his new community.

"Now I can begin to take care of myself," he said.

* Name has been changed for security reasons.

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JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of approximately 700,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.

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