eastern congo initiative The Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) has been fighting poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 2010. Founded by Ben Affleck, ECI combines advocacy and research with financial and logistical support for Congolese organizations striving to create sustainable change.

Conflict in the region has resulted in the displacement of a nearly 3 million and a death toll of around 5.4 million. In addition, the prolonged fight for power between competing militias has perpetuated a cycle of violence, poverty and disease for more than 20 years.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, despite a promising growth rate of nine percent between 2014 and 2015, political and social instability has led to Congolese citizens surviving on “less than $200 a year—barely half of what they did in 1970.”

In order to help improve living conditions, ECI has invested in the Eastern Congo’s potential for redevelopment, gaining the attention of influential voices within eastern Congo and around the world. The organization uses “targeted methods to communicate directly to select individuals who can help shape policies and action in the government, academic and private sectors”.

Field research and direct polling conducted by ECI addresses the lack of verifiable information that previously discouraged many lawmakers and members of the private sector in the U.S. and Europe from becoming Congo advocates.

The United States, in particular, has stepped up its efforts to provide assistance in the DRC, actively working with the African and European Unions to broker regional peace agreements and becoming the largest financial contributor to the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

In 2011, in partnership with USAID, the Eastern Congo Initiative provided an in-depth analysis of community-based organizations throughout the DRC. This report allowed policy makers and investors to gain insight into the potential of sustainable growth in the DRC, opening the possibilities of increased funding and investment.

In addition, ECI has given grants to 23 Congolese organizations to support their efforts in improving economic development, education, access to justice and family health.

One organization, Children’s Voice, serves the needs of “young people living in extreme poverty, including orphans, former child soldiers and sex slaves”.

By providing primary schooling, vocational training and mental health assistance to approximately 600 children per year in the cities of Goma and Magunga, Children’s Voice is taking a critical step to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness at an early stage.

Another organization, Dynamique de Femmes Juriste (DFJ) provides legal services to women who have faced rights abuses, from sexual violence to inheritance violations. In addition to advocating for laws that strengthen women’s participation in politics, DFJ trains paralegals in rural areas to process complaints in their respective communities.

The group also encourages female community leaders to run for office in local elections to encourage better female representation in the government.

According to the Eastern Congo Initiative’s website, in 2014, “DFJ prosecuted more than 200 cases in court, with a 37 percent success rate.” For a country whose justice system is incredibly weak, this is nothing short of a promising and remarkable achievement.

Taylor Resteghini

Photo: Flickr

If there’s ever a friend to have during a crisis, it’s Relief International, an international nonprofit organization based in the US that provides comprehensive support in response to natural disasters and conflicts around the world. The organization, which spent over $33 million in expenditures for the cause in 2011, has a unique focus on long term development in regions affected by crises, even when they are still in the emergency phase. In many cases, Relief International has been the first US-based agency to provide development relief efforts in the affected region following crises, but the benefits of their efforts are certainly not the first to leave.

Relief International divides their works in six different areas – emergency health and sanitation, food and agriculture, education and empowerment, livelihoods and enterprise, shelter and infrastructure, and protection and human rights – all of which help victims get back up and stay on their feet long after a crisis.

In the event of a crisis, first Relief International focuses on meeting the immediate needs of the victims, by providing food rations, clean water, temporary shelter and emergency medical supplies through their emergency health and sanitation programs. Once the immediate danger has passed, the organization stays in the region to help victims can get back to their original way of life, or even make it better than it was before.

This involves creating sustainable agriculture practices by educating farmers and communities about how to diversify their crops and efficiently use resources, and helping students continue their education by providing educational resources such as books, supplies and buildings such as technology centers and libraries. Relief International also provides educational programs that teach students service learning and leadership so they can become advocates for change in the future. In addition, the organization helps adults jump back into their careers through vocational training opportunities and giving microfinance loans. All the while, they are also advocates for human rights by creating programs to educate women about their rights and providing legal assistance, while also promoting journalism on issues like human trafficking and promoting democratic government.

One of Relief International’s most recent projects was the opening of a Zoonosis control office in the Chitral district of Pakistan. Zoonosis is a type infectious disease that can be transmitted between species (meaning it can affect both humans and livestock), and is known to be one of the deadliest health hazards in the region. There are 296 diseases, including Tuberculosis, Tetanus and Rabies, that fall under the Zoonosis category. Relief International’s office will focus on advocacy and awareness about the type of disease, and integrate surveillance and response management in the region so less people become infected.

– Emma McKay

Sources: Relief International The Dardistan Times Charity Navigator