In a country tired by conflict the Government has forgotten its war veterans.
Some of them live on the slopes of a mountain not far from the town of Beni in the east. Hope in Action has joined a project to help them build a viable society.
Demotchi Maloba is a tall man. He insists on still wearing his lieutenant’s uniform despite no longer being on active service. He was sent here after being injured in a battle in 2003.
“We are still soldiers in the army, although they don’t give us the pension we deserve. They’ve forgotten all about us”, he says while pointing to the piece of land around the Taliata mountain that a government minister from the region has secured for the 320 army families. All ex-soldiers have a handicap of some kind.
Despite losing a leg in the fighting, Muhindo tries to make a living growing maize. He lives in an earth house that fills with smoke every time they cook.
“We can’t really live on the little food we have but we must”, he says.
“Our job was to shoot. We’re not trained to be farmers”, Maloba explains.
The war veteran’s frustration turned into a security problem a few years ago. Unpaid and with no possibility to support their families they turned to highway robbery between Beni and the Ugandan border further to the east. On one occasion they went five kilometres inside Beni and went on the rampage there.
They attracted the attention of ex-colonel and church leader Edmond Luanda Pinos, who now among much else runs a transit centre for former child soldiers who are to be rehabilitated. He went to talk to the soldiers. “We had many long conversations. I told them that they might have handicaps but they still had two hands. There is always something that can be done. After a long period of discussions they agreed that growing crops was better than robbing people.
Several agricultural projects have already begun, planting cassava and maize and rearing chickens and rabbits on a small scale. Eucalyptus trees make the boundaries of their land but also produce wood.
“We still need to learn how to utilise all the land. But at least now we have food”, says Maloba.
Pinos has asked Hope in Action to join the project to make thins easier for the families. They need a medical centre. The foundation for a school has been laid but it needs to be built and teachers paid to work there.
Every morning the women and children go down to the valley to fetch water.
“With our involvement here we are helping to resolve a security problem at the same time as we are involved in a small village project where people are motivated to help themselves. It is easy to try things out and see what works and what doesn’t work. We can see if a solar-powered water pump can both make daily life easier and provide irrigation, says Hope in Action’s coordinator Dan Andersson.