When one thinks of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one immediately thinks of the conflict and genocide that took place here. That was more than a decade ago, and the region is now a safer place. I’m just returning from my assignment to help local farmers improve their pasture management and increase livestock production. I think I was one of the first volunteers to travel to North Kivu province on the eastern edge of DRC since the turmoil.
When I landed in Goma, people were walking in the streets, shops were open, and materials and supplies were being hauled around the city in trucks and hand-pulled carts. On the taxi ride to the hotel, I noticed many United Nations (UN) vehicles driving through the city—most of them were aid vehicles but some were security forces. There were probably more police and military than you would find in the United States, though not what you might expect if there were still problems in the region. I felt very safe traveling through the city with people saying hello with a smile. I stayed in a beautiful hotel on the lake’s edge in Goma, very clean with good food and nice rooms. My assignment was in Betumbo, which is several hundred miles to the north of Goma by plane. The Betumbo airport has a dirt runway and is guarded by military troops for protection. The UN was not as noticeable here, though the city was full of people, like in Goma. Even at night, people were out on the streets walking casually with no sign of fear or alarm.
My assignment was one of the best I’ve done, and the farmers were very appreciative that I made the trip.
The training was extremely well organized with introductions from the mayor, Ministry of Animal Health representatives, and other dignitaries. They sang their national anthem at the beginning and end of the training with enthusiasm: this felt more like a conference than a simple training. There were over 150 people in attendance, and all were eager to learn. Some people had traveled more than 50 kilometers over rough, dirt roads to attend. An animal science professor from a local university had his entire class at the training, and the president of another university also attended.
David Roberts visits a university in Betumbo
Of all the assignments I’ve completed, I’ve never felt like I impacted so many people over such a short period of time. They thanked me many times for traveling here and asked that I explain to people that the region is now a safe place.