On the frontline, working in one of the world’s most dangerous countries
February 7th, 2018 | Blandine Sixdenier
Today, over half of the population in the Central African Republic (CAR) requires humanitarian aid to survive, and two million people are in need of food. Humanitarian support is seriously underfunded. Thanks to an in-depth investigation with our expert network, through weareiguacu.org, you can donate today in seconds to the highly effective charity Triangle (TGH) and help the long-suffering people of CAR. Here’s an interview by iguacu’s Lead Researcher on CAR, Blandine Sixdenier, with Triangle’s Gael Conan:
The Central African Republic (CAR) is not well known to many in our audience, and Gael, you know CAR very well. Can you first share some thoughts about what inspires you about working in CAR?
Despite the difficult conditions, people here try to improve their lives with the little they’ve got. People in CAR are resilient and have developed mechanisms to cope with the situation.
Also, the needs are so great that you can quickly see the impact of our work. That is rewarding.
What are the biggest challenges?
Access in CAR is the biggest challenge. There is little infrastructure in the country and the security situation is changing and unstable. Tensions can rise very quickly.
The lack of funding is also a major problem that threatens the delivery of aid. It is particularly visible in the Vakaga, where our education activities are underfunded despite being greatly needed. International donors also requested to reduce our water-trucking activities in the Ouaka because it is too costly and not sustainable. However, it is a life-saving activity and the needs remain immense. 15,000 new people arrived in just a few weeks last year.
What is it like to work in CAR? Can you describe your usual day?
There is no typical day in CAR! Working here is intense and no day is like the other.
The team starts the week with a “Baobab meeting” on Monday, running through activities for the coming week with the entire team. The team in CAR also interacts a lot with our headquarters in France, this continuous liaison allows us to be more efficient.
In Bangui, at the end of the day, we like to share together a drink from time to time, while in Bambari we play dice.
Can you summarise for our readers Triangle’s chief activities in CAR?
In CAR, we combine emergency relief and long-term development. Our objective is long-term development activities because they allow the population to develop the ability to respond to their own needs. However, given the serious security situation and the extent of the humanitarian need, we need to provide emergency aid. TGH’s wider goal is that we work to strengthen local people’s resilience.
Can you elaborate on where and on what is your focus?
We focus on three of the four sectors tackled by TGH worldwide: water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), food security and livelihoods, and education. In addition, we have a protection aspect over all of our activities. For instance, it can be dangerous for women and girls to fetch water in CAR, they can be attacked on the road. We take that into consideration by building boreholes closer to where they live.
In CAR, we operate in Ouaka, the remote Vakaga region where there is only one other international organization, and Ombella MPoko [the region of the capital].
What is your focus in Ouaka?
Ouaka is where there has been the highest number of internally displaced people. In November, there were over 90,000 internally displaced people, including 15,000 who arrived in just a few weeks. It is a place where fighting is recurring.
In Ouaka, we ensure people have access to safe-drinking water. We use water-trucking to meet part of the needs of the displaced population. We pump and treat water thanks to the treatment unit we built. Then we bring it to the population with water tanks. When the number of displaced people rose, we had to increase the volume of water we transported each day. Also, to improve the sustainability and the cost efficiency of our approach, we implemented other activities such as building new and repairing existing boreholes. We also developed sanitation activities such as setting up emergency latrine units and shower in the sites where we operate. When we do, we involve the community in the construction and we use local material. We also help people improve their hygiene habits.
Regarding food security in Ouaka, we support local farmers by providing seeds and tools so they can cultivate their lands and produce food. We also work on animals’ health, and vaccinated over 60,000 head of cattle last year.
In education, we repair schools and provide schooling material. We also train parent-teachers [parents who are designated to teach the class when there is no formal teacher].
What about in remote Vakaga?
In Vakaga, the needs are immense and there is not enough attention or support. In Vakaga in 2017, we were able to provide seeds and tools to more than 4,000 households and vaccinated over 40,000 head of cattle. We also supported the production of honey, fish and onions.
We also support schools in this area. They run almost entirely by parent-teachers and the buildings and equipment are really poor. TGH has developed a two-part program for these schools. We improve the infrastructure by building new buildings, school latrines and providing furniture, and support teaching quality by providing training on protective schooling and on the CAR curricula.
Our child protection and gender-based approach focuses on girls’ schooling, with awareness campaigns. We built a ‘Women’s House’ where dressmaking, hairdresser and soap making trainings took place for young girls who had few opportunities to go to school alongside providing literacy support.
I understand in the capital, Bangui, your main focus is street children?
Yes, we partner with local organizations to assist children living on the streets. We also organize tours to meet with them, distribute food and medicine, help them find a shelter and try to reunite them with their family. It is very hard, some kids only know their parents’ first name.
We currently have 110 children at school and an additional 30 other are undertaking professional training. We also managed to reunite over 80 kids with their families in the past year.
Can you tell us a little about your team in CAR?
There’s 90 local staff and 12 international staff. As the conflict is taking place along religious lines, it is important to have a multi-faith team. Most of our local staff has been with us since we arrived in CAR in 2007.
Our people enjoy working for us, and stay with us. For instance, Abdelali was recruited as a local staff in Algeria and he is now our financial auditor in CAR!
What are the humanitarian priorities and how is Triangle responding to them?
For us, the priorities are the displacement of population in Ouaka and the lack of support in Vakaga.
Displacement has increased and the situation remains extremely fragile. In Ouaka, we set up some contingency stocks to respond to emergencies. For instance, we had stocked water and hygiene supplies, and we used it to immediately respond to the need of the 15,000 people who suddenly arrived last year.
Regarding education, we would like to set up stocks with schooling and recreational materials to support children displaced by the conflict.
We are also raising awareness about the severity of the crisis.
Can you share a highlight from your successes in CAR?
The Women’s House in Birao. Over there, it is traditionally hard for women to get an education and access employment opportunities. We set up a women’s house which provided professional training. It was a great success, we were not expecting so much enthusiasm! In one year, 120 women and girls received professional training.
We unfortunately had to withdraw due to the lack of funding, but I am very happy that local people mobilized to keep the house! It’s a proof that what we did was both needed and appreciated!
What are your goals for 2018?
We want to keep working with local people to improve their lives and alleviate their suffering.
In Bangui, we are working to develop our activities with street kids and provide them with more items. We also would like to work closer with the city hall and local organizations to find long-term solutions.
In Vakaga, we want to increase our food security activities with a focus on animal health, and honey and onion farming.
In Ouaka, we are expanding our contingency stocks to be able to respond to new crises.
We also want to strengthen our education and WASH activities across the country.
Can you share your thoughts about the future outlook?
The security situation is unstable and it is hard to know what will happen in CAR. Armed groups are still very present, especially in the East. So I don’t think the humanitarian situation will improve in the short term.
We will continue to work to support the population in need, including those who are unable to move to safety.
Support the wonderful work of Triangle in CAR with iguacu. It takes moments to donate here where you can also learn more about CAR and Triangle’s work. With iguacu, you are donating to genuinely effective charities working at the heart of the world’s serious crises.