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Over 30 years of commitment and devotion in the Central African Republic

Story Cordaid
Central African Republic -

The Central African Republic has been struggling with violence and political instability for decades. Cordaid has been active in the country for over 30 years, supporting the population with humanitarian assistance, education, access to justice, and health care. Our programmes will be completed by the end of this year and during the process of phasing out our activities, we look back at several highlights with a few crucial players.

With so many years of working on complex operations, overcoming mindboggling challenges, but also continuously learning and collecting unforgettable experiences, it would be a mere impossible task to give a complete and comprehensive overview of Cordaid’s presence in the Central African Republic. It was a tough call, but we had to make a selection.

In this story, we zoom in on three programmes that have made a significant impact, have supported millions of people and positioned Cordaid as an important actor in the field of humanitarian assistance and international development in the region.

Facts and figures: Cordaid in the Central African Republic

Results & Indicators

  • 69 projects (2016 – 2023)

  • 6.3 million people directly reached with our interventions (2016 – 2023)

  • €41.5 million spent on healthcare programmes (2016 – 2023)

Because the Central African Republic has been in a perpetual state of conflict during Cordaid’s tenure, emergency relief for the affected population has always played a pivotal part in the activities.

Ignacio Arteche started a humanitarian programme in 2013, at the height of a violent conflict between armed groups and the Central African government. “Cordaid just left the country because the office had been looted”, he remembers. “The circumstances were terrible and the hostilities intensified day by day.”

Humanitarian assistance in the Central African Republic

The conflict in the Central African Republic became one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world. Within Cordaid’s humanitarian department, a feeling of urgency grew by the hour. The worse it got, the more the team felt they had to be there.

“What happens in armed conflicts, is that organisations leave due to the insecurity. People who work for faith-based organisations, like Caritas, often stay, no matter what.”

“But it was far from easy. We were one the first organisations to respond and we had to start our operations from scratch”, Arteche says. “There was no office, so we created one. We started with one expert who collaborated with our partners from Caritas Central African Republic. Because we were very well-rooted in the civil society and thanks to our contacts at Caritas we were able to make a quick start.”

“In some situations, being a faith-based organisation gives you an advantage”, Arteche continues. “What happens in armed conflicts, is that organisations leave due to the insecurity. People who work for faith-based organisations, like Caritas, often stay, no matter what. They have that conviction. Thanks to those people, we could support the displaced population in hard-to-reach areas while the crisis was still going on.”

Aid worker and children in the Central African Republic
Ignacio Arteche at work in the Central African Republic in 2014. Image: Arie Kievit/Cordaid

During the start of Cordaid’s response, the conflict was most intense in Bouzoum, close to the border with Cameroon and Chad. At that time there was an Italian priest present in the warzone who was well-known for his zealous peace-building efforts in the country.

Arteche: “He was highly respected and he was kind of our man there. He was the director of the Caritas Diocesan in a severely affected area. There was a lot of internal displacement and many people found security within this parish because the priest had won the respect of the warring parties. They wouldn’t attack that area.”

Still, working in these conflict zones meant a need for constant caution and continuous pressure on the staff, due to threats of violence and raids. On multiple occasions, a large evacuation operation had been initiated to bring everyone to safety, after which the staff would continue to do everything in their power to resume the activities.

In the most complicated settings and times, the resourcefulness of the humanitarian team truly shone through, Arteche remembers. “We were planning a massive food distribution and we realised our trucks wouldn’t be able to reach some crucial areas due to the terrible road conditions. That’s when we called in the help of a large group of motorcycle taxi drivers. We hired everyone we could find in the area and with their bikes they were able to cross the bridge and go over the narrow and bumpy roads. They would carry a couple of bags, 50 kilos each on the back of those small motorbikes. The distribution was a success. It was absolutely remarkable and something to be proud of.”

Watch this video about the humanitarian programme and food distribution in the Central African Republic.

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The humanitarian actions of Cordaid, Caritas and the other partners have made a difference in the lives of millions. However, crises are occurring all over the world and with limited resources, organisations sometimes need to make the tough decision of moving their operations elsewhere.

Arteche is saddened by the idea. “The Central African Republic remains a country with a lot of needs. But at the same time, we need to prioritise. We cannot be everywhere at the same time. It’s the global limitation of our sector. Nevertheless, our ties with the country will remain, through the civil society and our partner network. I am happy and confident to know that our local Caritas colleagues will continue supporting the people of the Central African Republic. We are part of the Caritas family, so in a way, we will remain.”

Strengthening the health system in the Central African Republic

Besides the obvious need for emergency relief, for too long, Central Africans have been deprived of access to quality health care. Decades of professional experience and expertise in setting up efficient healthcare facilities in remote and conflict-affected settings, allowed Cordaid to make a huge impact in the healthcare infrastructure.

Central African doctor and programme manager Francis Mandazou played a crucial role in these activities. Cordaid started a healthcare project with co-financing from the European Union, in January 2010. In close collaboration with the Central African Ministry of Public Health and its decentralised health prefectures, Mandazou and his team managed to increase the quality of the public health system, while keeping it affordable for the population.

“We have to keep working to develop the community health programme. Maternal and neonatal mortality is still too high.”

Mandazou ruminates over the poor state of health care in his region more than thirteen years ago. “There was a lack of qualified personnel, there were no medicines available, the security situation was very unstable and the infrastructure was broken.”

Doctor in the Central African Republic
Dr Francis Mandazou.

In the areas where Cordaid has left a mark, things look different now, Mandazou says. “I am very proud of our achievements. We have strengthened the capacities of staff and made them more competent and autonomous in carrying out their tasks. Financial procedures are much clearer, functions and tasks are divided better, there are more tools and equipment available, and important safety rules are being applied much stricter.”

Facts and figures: Cordaid programmes in the Central African Republic

Results & Indicators

  • 1.15 million people reached with humanitarian assistance (2018 – 2021)

  • 3.85 million people reached through healthcare programmes (2016 – 2021)

  • 1.03 million people supported with access to justice (2018 – 2020)

  • 252,000 people reached with education programmes (2018 – 2021)

Despite all these accomplishments the Central African Republic still has a long way to go to ensure all its citizens have equal access to quality health care, at all times. Though his contract with Cordaid has ended, Mandazou continues his mission through other organisations. “We have to keep working to develop the community health programme. Maternal and neonatal mortality is still too high. We need to reduce those numbers. We need to bring in the right medicines and we need to continue building the capacity of healthcare institutions and providers.”

Jeune S3: sexual and reproductive health and rights in fragile contexts

The Central African Republic is full of youth, literally. Almost 40% of the population is younger than 14. Teenage pregnancies are common and this impedes girls to work on their future and escape the cycle of poverty.

Marietta Merveille and Neil-Audrey Samafou met each other during their participation in the Jeune S3 programme. Jeune S3 was a multi-country programme for education on sexual and reproductive health and rights for youth between 10 and 24 years old. The programme was implemented in Benin, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic from 2016 to 2020.

Marietta Merveille and Neil-Audrey Samafou, participants in Cordaid’s Jeune S3 programme.

“When I think about my time with Cordaid and JeuneS3, I have a feeling of pride to have contributed to advancing an important cause”, Neil-Audrey says. “We have always put young people at the centre. Today, when I see the effects of the training, how it contributed to the development of young people and how it makes them flourish, it brings tears to my eyes. Tears of joy.”

“I really hope that the Central African Republic will start to see the potential of its youth.”

Marietta has fond memories of how the programme connected her to youth in other countries in the region with whom she could share her experiences. “In Cameroon, we held a meeting with all the participating countries. There I learnt that we all have the same problems concerning our rights as young people. It’s just the contexts that are linked to the cultures that are different.”

Watch this short documentary about Marietta and the Jeune S3 programme.

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“For myself, Jeune S3 allowed me to assert myself, to be more enlightened and to develop my skills in advocacy and communication”, Marietta continues. “Today I represent the young people of the Central African Republic in FP2030, a global partnership centred on family planning. Jeune S3 brought me there. For the first time, I contributed to high-level advocacy which resulted in the disbursement by the state for the purchase of contraceptive products.”

Neil-Audrey: “The programme supported lots of young people on how to defend their rights and be responsible at the same time. This means that many young people who participated are now advancing in their studies, others have become journalists and work for the media. I’m sure some of them would have become mothers at a very young age if it weren’t for the programme. Jeune S3 allowed me to sharpen my potential and grow my self-confidence. Now, I work in the field of protection and defence of children’s rights. I really hope that the Central African Republic will start to see the potential of its youth.”

Written by Mickael Franci, Editor at Corporate Communication.

Header image: Villagers playing football on an airfield outside of Bossangoa. Photo by Mickael Franci.