BUNIA— I first set foot on bright, red African soil as a wide-eyed 11-year-old. Our family home for most of six years was in a small village in the forested and relatively isolated northwest corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire), where my parents worked as teachers for a missionary agency.
My experiences there helped me to realize that I had a responsibility to help those who had grown up without the same education and opportunities I had always taken for granted—and spurred me to pursue relief and development as a career.
How we help in DRC
Helping families in DRC get back on their feet after long years of conflict is all in a day's work for humanitarian workers like Peter. Giving women the skills and nutrition they need to get ahead is one way to do that. Find out more
In April 2009, 14 years after leaving, I returned to Congo as the WFP’s head of programmes in the Bunia sub-office in northeastern Orientale Province. The sights, sounds and smells of my childhood flooded my senses.
As a child, my family lived in Tandala village, in Equateur province, about 1,000 km west of where I am now based. It was a place where daily food came from the ground, where family included most of the village and where poverty was a way of life.
Like my Congolese friends I spent my days chatting in Lingala, playing football and eating the birds and antelope that we hunted.
Today I see reminders of my old life everywhere; people are busy and extroverted; when it rains, it pours. Water and electricity are celebrated, not expected. My tongue has rediscovered Lingala. And I can go months without seeing a paved road.
But this familiar experience belies the grim realities of poverty and hunger in a country torn by conflict and ranked near the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index.
Days once spent climbing guava trees and fishing in rivers I now devote to planning and implementing food assistance activities for people struggling to survive amid violence, floods, drought, the HIV epidemic and grinding poverty.
Yet I am once again on the receiving end of my relationship with the DRC. To see its people’s determination to endure despite overwhelming physical and psychological hardship is incredibly rewarding.
Both personally and professionally, I have grown up as much during my past 16 months in Congo as when I lived here as a child so many years ago.