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In the midst of the fighting in North Kivu, Diela is learning to walk

Emergency Rehabilitation
Democratic Republic of Congo

Maria and her daughter Diela arrived at the Bulengo camp for displaced people in February. The 2-year-old had developmental delays but thanks to specialised support, she is now beginning to catch up.

In a carpeted room, a man opens his arms to hold a baby. A woman crouches beside them. The walls are made of canvas, and balloons hang from them.

Diela taking part in play sessions with Maria and HI’s specialised physiotherapist. | © S. Lazzarino / HI

Maria, Diela’s adoptive mother

Maria, 65, used to live in Nyamitaba, in Masisi territory. She had five children, all of whom completed their education. Her husband died during her last pregnancy, so she has been widowed for many years. Maria lived very close to a health centre and hospital. As she was known in the village for taking good care of her children, the health staff had taken to entrusting her with the orphans of mothers who had died in childbirth. In addition to her sons and daughters, Maria took in seven other children.

Nor is she Diela's biological mother - it was fate that led her to the little girl. One day, while walking in the countryside, Maria came across a baby girl who had just been born. The umbilical cord was still attached to her navel and a letter from her biological mother was tucked under her arm.

The mother explained that she was very young, and that her daughter was the product of a rape by a member of her family. Mocked and rejected by the other children in the village, and by her own mother, the young girl explained that she had decided to abandon her baby at birth.

The consequences of the crisis: developmental delays

In January 2024, Maria fled the fighting in her home village, taking eight of her children with her, including the seven orphans she had taken in. Diela, aged 2, was the youngest. They travelled to the town of Masisi in the hope of finding refuge there. But a month later, unable to find enough food for her children, Maria decided to join a population movement heading for the displaced people’s camps around Goma.

After arriving in Bulengo, Maria became increasingly concerned about Diela's developmental delays. At 24 months, Diela had the developmental level of a 13-month-old child. She was still not walking and she spent her days lying motionless, doing nothing. Maria heard about HI from her neighbours, whose young children had had the same difficulties as Diela. Seeing the improvements in these children brought about by the specialist care they had received, Maria decided to seek help for Diela from HI’s team.

Diela’s first steps

HI’s team first referred Maria and Diela to an NGO that could treat the little girl's malnutrition. Once her condition began to improve, she was able to join HI's stimulation therapy programme. These sessions, led by a physiotherapist specialising in stimulation exercises, promote children’s development through play. Maria also took part in the sessions, so that she could learn the exercises and then reproduce them with daughter at home.

Diela has already taken part in six stimulation therapy sessions and is making significant progress. She has taken her first steps!

From September 2023 to June 2024, as part of its integrated rehabilitation and mental health project in the Mweso and Rutshuru health areas, HI provided physical and functional rehabilitation care to 429 people, supplied 246 mobility aids and enabled eight amputees to be fitted with prostheses. Over 3,500 stimulation therapy sessions were held with 643 malnourished children to prevent and reduce developmental delays.

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