|Doing with, not for refugees is core to the JRS mission, Masisi, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, (Peter Balleis SJ/ JRS)|
|Visiting the camps everyday is an important indicator of the quality of JRS accompaniment.|
A recent visit to the JRS team in Masisi, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, offered me some insights.
Last September, the JRS team, comprising three international and 18 Congolese staff, moved with the returnee population in North Kivu from Goma to Masisi as the camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) was phased down and eventually closed. Now the team works with returnees in the Masisi area and newly displaced persons from the surrounding localities.
As we approached the camps, I heard some children and adults along the road shouting the names of our staff members: Bea, Luis and Irene. They did not identify the car as JRS, but the persons in the car. Later, walking through the camps, I could see the very close and personal contact which Bea, Luis and Irene have with the persons served by JRS.
Bea and Luis visit one of the four camps in and around Masisi everyday. Luis works with adolescents and other young people, while Bea visits and takes care of the most vulnerable persons. Although the number doesn’t exceed 50, they are really the neediest.
When their needs are outside the remit of the local JRS team, she often brings their cases to the attention of other organisations and UN agencies to make sure they receive attention. All the cases Bea presents are taken up by these organisations. This is down to the credibility of JRS and the real vulnerability of the persons it serves.
Once a week, Irene goes to one of the two training centres for women, managed by Angelique, a Congolese women, who worked with JRS in Goma and moved with the team to Masisi. On the other days, she visits village communities.
We visited one such village. Although it was within the security zone, 20km from Masisi, the road was so bad it took hours to get there. Upon arrival, the children and elders of the village showed us the terrain, already prepared by the community, where their future secondary school would be constructed. They were so proud to show us the fruits of their hard work. They had broken the mountain rocks which will be used as the foundations for the classrooms of the new school building. Now it is up to JRS to provide the materials and the know-how to build the new school.
I began reflecting on what I had seen, on the criteria JRS uses to measure the quality and impact of its accompaniment. Let me give you a short summary of these criteria:
- to move with people wherever they may go, be it to camps, marginalised urban areas or inaccessible mountain villages;
- to spend time with people. Visiting the camps everyday is an important indicator of the quality of JRS accompaniment. In short, this is the amount of time JRS workers spend alongside refugees as opposed to behind their computer screens;
- to be on first name terms: not making the name of the organisation known, but the names of the field workers. If people know their names, this is an indication of the existence of a personal relationship, closeness, friendship and care. This is also an indicator of the local integration of JRS staff, the best guarantee of security for the team. Local people are the best protectors of JRS teams, whether local or international staff;
- to be trusted by people. This is clearly seen when displaced persons share their experiences of loss and hope with us;
- to advocate for the most vulnerable: something which is only possible if we are close to the lives of the people;
- to involve the local population in the work of the projects, to encourage them to offer their labour; and, last, but certainly not least,
- to enjoy being together and to celebrate with refugees.
Accompaniment is the cornerstone of the JRS mission. The quality and impact of our services and advocacy depend on the quality of our accompaniment.
Peter Balleis SJ
JRS International Director