TVH’s Olivia Mundabi on her amazing work for I Heart Africa

Olivia Mundabi has been a TVH member and athlete for many years, and for some time has been the coaching assistant on the Kids on Track programme on Saturday mornings. She works for I Heart Africa, and has recently been involved in a project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In her own words:

My name is Olivia Mundabi I am a TVH member, active athlete and coaching assistant for the Kids on Track programme. I also work for a small organisation called I Heart Africa, which aims to empower people of the African Diaspora who are less fortunate, so they can sustain themselves and build a micro-economy. To present we have done projects is Somalia, Jamaica, Ghana and The Democratic Republic of Congo.

In May 2021, the Nyiragongo volcano in Goma erupted and many people were displaced from their homes. Goma is located on the East side of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Goma is surrounded by 8 volcanos, 3 of which are active, 3 are dormant and 2 have no activity. Due to the terrain, the ground/soil is extremely fertile. The eastern part of Congo is referred to as the mineral capital of the world and is the only place certain minerals are found which are essential for every part of the tech industry.

The government built ‘temporary’ displacement camps with tents made of plastic sheets that do not cover the ground. On the organisation’s first trip to Goma in September 2021, we selected 25 children, of whom 20 were orphans, to be a part of our programme. We employed a team of trustworthy locals to run and manage the programme. The children would come and spend the day learning, playing and be fed. In the background, we fundraised and built 4 houses which we then gave to the 4 families we thought could build a good community foundation.

First Housing Project

We started to do the programme every day in the new houses that we built, whilst financially supporting the carers of the children to ensure they all had the basic necessities and started fundraising for a bigger house building project in January 2022 to build 20 houses. Once we reached our target goal, we began the construction work with a local architect who became our project manager.

Second Housing Project with Nyriagongo volcano in the background

At the beginning of September 2022, all the children who were old enough went to school for the first time. That was a big achievement for us because education gives them a fighting chance to be able to change their future. Now they go to school in the morning and come to the programme after school where they get help with their homework; extra French tuition; they get fed and get to play with their friends before going back home.

Mid-September, a small team of us went to Goma to complete the housing project and to decide who we would assign the houses too. Being Congolese myself and having origins from the east, it was very important to me that I went despite the dangers that come with being a woman there. I spent one month in Goma before I went to see my family in the capital. In that month I got to know and spend time with every child; visit their homes to understand their living conditions; speak to their carers to find out their stories; visit the displacement camps; visit the lava flow site and speak to locals who we could potentially give houses to.

I was unable to go back to Goma to finish handing over the houses due to war breaking out in the east, however the team that stayed were to gives the families the keys to their new homes and take them on a tour around the place. We realise that 20 houses are basically a community, so we gave it a name: ‘Kijiji ya Lumumba’ which means ‘The Lumumba Village’ in Swahili. Patrice Lumumba was the first elected Prime Minister in the DRC and was a true pan-African. Which leads me to my next point. Each house has a Pan-African hero painted in front of it, also done by a very talented local artist.

Now that we have them in their new houses, the next step is to help them become self-sustainable. We have a few ideas of programmes we could run which will allow them to generate their own income. Majority of the carers are farmers by trade, growing foods to sell on a mass scale to one of the only 5* hotel in the town is one of them. Training them to make natural and organic soap, and carpentry training are the few ideas which we are currently working towards making a reality.

The conflict in the region is getting closer to the where the families are living so we have had to evacuate the children and their carers into the main Goma town which is protected for their safety.

It was such a humbling experience. We worked almost every day of that month apart from 2 days so you can imagine the exhaustion. Some days were easier than other, but I did not complain because I was just so grateful for the opportunities I have had in life and things that we take for granted.