A 10-year-old girl sells flour in the Kibondwe/Kasenga market in Uvira town. A 10-year-old girl sells flour in the Kibondwe/Kasenga market in Uvira town. Photo credit: CEDIER
From a group of volunteers to a local NGO: CEDIER’s journey in support of the protection of children in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
by Augustin Titi Rutanuka and Armel Rusake Rutebeza May 2021

For more than a decade the territory of Uvira in in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been characterised by inter-ethnic conflicts over access to and management of land and related resources. Additional agropastoral conflicts, power struggles and inter-community tensions have led to cycles of violence, including murder, abduction, rape, serious violations of children’s rights, and destruction of property, assets, crops and livestock. Local armed groups linked to different communities, and which interact with foreign armed groups, have been fighting each other for years. These activities have resulted in near-permanent insecurity in Uvira, leading to displacement and shelter-, food-, health- and protection-related needs. International humanitarian actors have also found it difficult to access the area and respond effectively.

Children in Uvira were particularly badly affected by this insecurity. As well as suffering from high rates of severe and moderate acute malnutrition, children’s rights were ignored and violated – especially girls who faced early marriage (which was perceived as normal), low school enrolment rates and difficult labour (e.g. young girls carrying heavy loads to the market).

From a group of volunteers to a Congolese non-profit organisation

In 2002, a group of volunteers (including three women)+1. Commonly, women are reticent to participate in community support and volunteerism due to stigma in society that perceives women as not having capacity. The fact that three women were among the volunteers is noteworthy. were moved by the situation of children living on the Katobo plateaus in the Uvira Territory in South Kivu. The group, which would in 2002  become the Centre for the Integral Development of the Rural Child (CEDIER) (a registered non-profit association), initially had no formal structure, no understanding of the humanitarian sector and its architecture, no financial or physical resources and very little support from within their community. Yet, even in these early years, the volunteers were able to  provide some support to vulnerable children in their communities – they identified those children that were malnourished, shared information with humanitarian and state actors able to respond and referred and transported children to the nutrition centre. Humanitarian and state actors did not have access to the communities where the volunteers were working and thus, while the volunteers did not have the capacity to treat the children, they could advocate for them, share information and refer them to those who could.

CEDIER was officially recognised by the authorities in 2005, when it registered legally and developed its vision of ‘a sub-region of the Great Lakes where children are flourishing in their villages’. CEDIER decided to formalise its existence after interacting with humanitarian actors who advised them to do so in order to receive funding from and partner with international humanitarian organisations. CEDIER’s vision reflected both a geographical ambition and thematic expansion from its work as a volunteer group. Geographically, their ambition was to work not only in eastern DRC in the Uvira region but also across the border in Burundi – a goal that is still in progress. Thematically, CEDIER wanted to expand its work on  child malnutrition to address other root causes of children’s vulnerability, including working with children associated with armed groups. In order to tackle these issues, CEDIER’s strategic programme is multi-sectoral, and includes child protection, nutrition, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), peace and conflict transformation, and working with young people and adolescents to prevent them from returning to armed groups through social work and vocational training. The organisation’s focus remains on tackling SGBV issues related to children, particularly early marriage and the denial of the right to education for girls. Similarly, its work on peace and conflict transformation aims to tackle conflict dynamics to prevent children’s recruitment into armed groups, prevent malnutrition and the overall impact of conflict on the community.

Since 2005, CEDIER has been an active member of the UN-led coordination system, in particular the child protection Area of Responsibility under the protection cluster. Through their active participation in the cluster, CEDIER has gained the trust and respect of other humanitarian actors as well as that of communities. Despite this, some international actors are still reluctant to partner with CEDIER even though it has the ability to access many of the conflict-affected areas in the Uvira region and has the advantage of being based locally.

Eligibility and institutional development

In 2010, CEDIER failed a performance evaluation organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a score of 51%. The evaluation was organised within the framework of the country-based pooled fund in DRC (known as the Humanitarian Fund) to assess whether CEDIER could be eligible for funding through this mechanism. The evaluation results and failure to become eligible for the Humanitarian Fund triggered an internal reform process in CEDIER, which ultimately resulted in organisational change that enabled them to become eligible for the Humanitarian Fund in 2016.

This reform process was supported through partnering with different international actors. From 2010 to 2012, CEDIER partnered with Mensen met een Missie (a Dutch Catholic missionary development organisation) and joined its Institutional Development and Organizational Reinforcement (DIRO) support programme. Through this programme, CEDIER received three types of support: capacity-strengthening for its staff, organisational development support and logistical support. The capacity of CEDIER’s staff was strengthened through a series of thematic training sessions on project design, resource mobilisation and management, and conflict analysis. In terms of organisational development, CEDIER benefitted from activities which enabled it to develop its first five-year strategic plan, restructure the organisation in line with a new vision and mission, and devise administrative, financial and logistical procedures and accompanying guidance. An independent audit expert also supported CEDIER to upgrade their financial systems, tools and procedures as well as organisational planning and donor reporting systems. CEDIER also received a contribution for the purchase of its first vehicle.

Between 2012 and 2018, Oxfam GB provided training to CEDIER’s programme, logistics, finance, administration and human resources, and coordination departments. This significantly improved the reporting and archiving system, relationship with state services and performance of the team in general. Oxfam also funded the Coordinator and Programme Officer to attend a ‘Management and Leadership in Emergencies’ training organised by Bioforce+2. Institut Bioforce France is an institute based in France that specialises in providing training to humanitarian actors. In this case, CEDIER’s training was part of a project entitled ‘Context’ that focused on strengthening the skills of humanitarian professionals and was funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as part of the Disaster and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) piloted by Oxfam within the Start Network., which strengthened their capacity. 

Both the partnership with Oxfam GB and the results of the UNDP’s performance assessment to determine eligibility for the Humanitarian Fund in DRC encouraged CEDIER to engage an external accounting firm to undertake regular audits. These audits have reinforced a culture of accountability and transparency and the need to follow good management practices.

Partnership and impact generated

CEDIER has forged partnerships with several actors (see Table 1) who have a similar or complementary vision and are ready to engage in a broader process of mutual learning and support. These partnerships involved the pooling of financial, material and human resources to enable the provision of timely and effective humanitarian support to vulnerable people.

Between 2003 and 2021 CEDIER partnered with seven international organisations including one donor (SDC) and one UN agency (WFP). It also benefitted from three allocations from the Humanitarian Fund in 2017, 2018 and 2019. CEDIER’s partnerships, most of which were shorter-term, mainly focused on food security, nutrition and child protection interventions. Partnerships with Oxfam GB and Mensen met een Missie were more complex and long-term.

The project in partnership with Mensen met een Missie strengthened peaceful cohabitation and social cohesion in Katobo’s middle ground. It involved an operational and resilient mechanism for inter-community dialogue (a mixed committee). Results included the construction of a mixed village as part of the inter-community approach, as well as participatory analysis with all communities on good peacebuilding practices and peaceful cohabitation.

CEDIER’s partnership history

Year Partner Activity
2003–2004Action Against Hunger (ACF)Nutrition referral
2007–2008SDCFood, non-food assistance, support to agropastoral activities for resilience building
2008–2012Mensen met een MissiePeaceful cohabitation and social cohesion
2012–2018Oxfam GBEmergency protection and preparedness for conflict-affected communities
2017–2019Humanitarian Fund (pooled fund) in DRC Community protection
2020Street ChildCapacity-building for local child protection structures
2019–2021WFPNutrition and food hygiene
2021In consortium with AVSIChild protection

The partnership with Oxfam GB focused on emergency protection and preparedness for conflict-affected communities in North and South Kivu. Through this project, CEDIER has supported, equipped and trained two ‘Acting with Youth’ structures as part of participatory action research (RAP), 12 community protection committees and 12 women’s forums on protection. Its aim was to support good local-level governance, as well as capacity-building, children’s referral to services, the emergence of women’s leadership and democratic dialogue between civilians and customary, military and police authorities on issues of protection and law.

One impact of the project was an agreement with the national Congolese armed forces and armed groups in the locality to remove checkpoints on roads used to deliver agricultural products to markets. An example is the case of the Revwe barrier in Mulenge, in the Kigoma grouping, which was erected by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Following advocacy by the community protection committee set up and supported by CEDIER, local authorities agreed to engage the FDLR to remove the illegal checkpoint. In return, the authorities provided the FDLR with access to fields for them to cultivate.

As a result of CEDIER’s efforts to promote women’s voices and leadership, a woman who had become a community activist and advocate was asked by the wise men in the village to become the first female member of the Lubunga/Committee of Sages. In the Acting with Young People project in March 2018, a young woman was appointed for the first time as secretary of the Lubunga de Barundi in Bwegera following the signing of the commitments regarding the inclusion of young people in Lubunga (Bafuliiru, Barundi and Banyamulenge) in the village of Bunga.

With the allocations from the Humanitarian Fund, CEDIER has led three protection-focused projects in response to humanitarian emergencies related to armed conflict. With its community-based approach, it has supported 15 community protection committees (CPCs) (six women and six men per structure) and 15 women’s forums (FdFs). Six-hundred and forty-five of the committee members (as well as 20 change agents attached to CPCs), 70% of whom are female, have been trained on various topics according to the needs and realities of their context. These needs were identified based on a protection concept and risk analysis, response actions determined through community protection plans, community contingency plans, as well as advocacy and awareness techniques, and referrals of victims.

The impact of CEDIER on these partners

As much as these INGO partnerships have influenced CEDIER’s policies, procedures and programmes, CEDIER has  also influenced the learning and systems of its partners. For instance, it was able to change Oxfam’s proposal to provide bicycles in remote communities for community members to transport victims of violence referred to other areas for services and support. CEDIER argued that Oxfam’s proposal would violate the principle of confidentiality as everyone would know that the bicycles were being used to transport victims of violence. CEDIER also argued that the proposal would lead to conflicts over the use of the bicycles.

In terms of advocacy and awareness within the Oxfam partnership, CEDIER influenced the introduction of and led a legislative and interactive theatre approach. Based on training received by consultants hired by Oxfam, CEDIER transformed the theatre approach to support the work of the CPCs by using theatre to advocate and raise awareness with decision-makers at community level. In the context of strengthening the involvement of communities in protection actions on the one hand, and strengthening local resources through the transfer of knowledge on the other, CEDIER has also influenced the integration of RAP in protection and peace activities with community structures.

Dynamics of relationships with partners

In general, relationships with partners are evolving well. However, it is noted that some partners still favour vertical relationships in which one partner implements strategies and follows guidelines from the other partner. For CEDIER, this does not promote mutual constructive exchange.

At the end of each project, most partnerships ended. With Oxfam, however, collaboration has continued (e.g. alert-sharing, tool development and the development of approaches) even without funds. While not planned as such, the approach has become part of a ‘good’ exit strategy, which has allowed both organisations to continue to support each other’s work even in the absence of a funding relationship. It demonstrates the mutual respect between partners and how much each actor values the partnership.

Hence, it is very important for international actors to invest in long-term partnerships with local organisations and local communities, including in the transfer of skills and capacity between each other. This approach will not only help to build trust and maintain strong relationships between all actors but will also ensure more effective support for affected people living in remote and insecure areas.

CEDIER encourages international organisations and donors to trust in and build the capacity of local actors to empower them to acquire the necessary skills to intervene in areas they deem inaccessible. As well as operating at lower cost and being able to physically access remote communities in insecure environments, local actors are able to sustain activities and support communities over the long term.

Augustin Titi Rutanuka is the Director of CEDIER. Armel Rusake Rutebeza is the Programme Director at CEDIER.