We climb aboard our Jeep. There’s not much time to spare because we have a good hundred kilometers round-trip ahead of us, and we will have to cross the river again and return to Bandundu before nightfall.
After 1 hour of traveling, we finally pass another vehicle, which flies by us so quickly that we do not immediately recognize that it is a team of UNICEF colleagues returning from a vaccination campaign against the recent polio resurgence in the remote villages of the province.
The Jeeps break and reverse; their crews get out of the cars and either hug or greet each other in the traditional Congolese manner by touching their heads together three times. The colleagues are jubilant: it’s like a reunion of long lost friends … or maybe it’s simply the good humor for which the Congolese are famed.
That day, I discovered the “Healthy Villages and Schools” programme for the first time, and saw its most impressive results: 2 magnificently built springs that attracted hundreds of enthusiastic and grateful villagers and children. Until that moment I probably had never understood the vital importance of our work, the needs to which it responds, its reason for being. It’s a true gift for me, for the future…
For the first time, I came to observe the impact of the WASH programme in the field for myself, with the luxury of being an objective outsider, to perceive the satisfaction or the disapproval of the beneficiaries and stakeholders close to the program, in order to gain a more precise idea of where to begin my quality assurance work.
I realize that I will need to develop a talent for speechmaking, because when it’s my turn to speak, everyone will wait for the “big things” (the Congolese have an artful linguistic command). I am therefore going to learn to give speeches, adapting my language to these villagers and children as if I am speaking to the doctors of the health zones, or to the Ministers and Government officials that I meet sometimes in the same day… no doubt a “school” of oratory art would be as valuable as an academic one!
Drink the Water to convince
I have to wash my hands in, and drink from all of the water sources built by UNICEF to show that the water is pure… I have a lot of fun doing this.
For example, right before we leave, our driver runs away from the vehicle, and I send all of the village children in his pursuit by promising to give my soap—which I always bring on-site for my job with WASH—to the child who brings my driver back to me. They sprint off like rockets, and I laugh a lot when they return in a few minutes, bringing my driver back as a prisoner!
Unable to split my little soap into 50 pieces (like Jesus with the fish), I finally decide to give the soap to the director of the school so that all of the children can enjoy it equally.
In the next villages, our arrival is much more discreet and we go directly to inspect the hydraulic structures implemented by the partner NGOs. The head doctor of the health zone, who arrived from the neighboring town on his motorbike -subsidized by UNICEF- accompanies us. I am struck by his presence and his competence. He is young (about 30) and studied in Belgium, but he decided to return ‘to the bush’ because he feels most useful here. In my opinion, he couldn’t be more right!
Eventually, our group has to quickly get back on the road. We take our leave from the doctor at a crossroads, and we “fly” towards the river that we need to cross before nightfall.
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Anne-Cecile Vialle is responsible for Quality Assurance at UNICEF DRC. She travels the country to support our 13 field offices in the implementation of programmes and risks mitigation, in order to increase the quality and sustainability of programme impacts. Her leitmotiv: There are always more solutions than problems!