Delivering humanitarian services amid gunshots requires a thick skin

Published: 30 October 2015 8:06 CET

Nelly Muluka is a communications delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, based in the Central African Republic. Living amid constant insecurity and violence requires a thick skin, explains Nelly as she details her motivation for continuing to support in such a precarious and potentially dangerous environment.

Seventeen months ago, I landed in Bangui, Central African Republic. I had been hired by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as a communications delegate. It was my job to help raise awareness about the insecurity that was forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. I set up my office at the Central African Red Cross headquarters in the PK5 area of Bangui, one of the areas hardest hit by persistent violence in the country. On my first night, I heard some gunshots but did not pay much attention to them. Little did I know that they would become recurring sounds over the next year and beyond.

Increased insecurity, robberies, kidnappings, carjacking and looting are part of what the people of this country go through on a daily basis, not only in the capital but in several provinces as well. Whenever we see or hear the patrol helicopter go up (which is a common occurrence), we automatically know that something is not right down. The locals have nicknamed the helicopter ‘Mama Congosa’, which in the local dialect means gossip. Mama Congosa is a woman who goes from home to home looking for gossip. When the helicopter moves around, it is usually followed by a lot of rumours and speculation, hence, the nickname that the helicopter is like a village gossip looking for information to peddle.

There are times when life becomes so deceptively normal that only the heavy presence of military patrol vehicles reminds one that all is not well. Then out of the blue, the shooting begins, lasting sometimes for days. There have been days of non-stop heavy shooting in the capital resulting in flights cancelled, shops closed, roads barricaded, internet connectivity disrupted, and life coming to a standstill, with only Red Cross volunteers braving the no-go zone areas to give first aid and gather dead bodies for dignified burials, at times losing some of their own in the process.

The situation has been a bit more worrying lately. During a recent surge of violence, several humanitarian personnel and organizations were heavily affected; some were looted, their personnel displaced and later evacuated. Only then did the words of my friends back home reflect through my head: “What! You are going back? Are you crazy?” But of course I keep coming back.

What keeps me going? Sincerely speaking, it is the spirit of the Red Cross volunteers that motivates me. Many of them have been displaced and are living in camps; others have been affected by the violence in different ways but they keep volunteering, singing and dancing during occasions, remaining strong all the time.

As I write this, unusually loud gunshots can be heard out there. It is 8 o’clock in the morning, the patrol helicopter is up in the sky. I must stop here and head out to find out exactly what is happening and plan my next move.