Giulia Balestra

REFUNITE Senior Outreach Officer Rody Bashizi has been intensively working in the field in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for the past couple weeks, conducting a survey designed to better understand phone penetration and usage in the region. This preliminary research will help plan next steps in developing and improving our service specifically in the DRC. Rody has been interviewing over 50 refugees from Mugunga 1, Mugunga 3, and Bulengo camps located on the outskirts of Goma, in the North Kivu province of the DRC. Now back from the field, I had a Q&A session with him to learn more about his findings.


Searching for Family and Connectivity

Rody of REFUNITE shares lessons learned from a recent online survey in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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-Q: Rody, what have been some of the highlights of the last weeks conducting research in the field?

-A: Every visit to the camps is different from the other ones. Refugees from Mugunga and Bulengo have always been very welcoming and open, but this time I was impressed by their interest in my work and in the research I was carrying out. Many of the people I talked to, spontaneously shared their personal stories with me and asked to be interviewed too. This time, instead of going from door to door, people would follow me around and waiting for their turn to participate in the survey…Being the only person in the field, I could not talk to all of them, but I really wish I could!


-Q: What were some of the challenges you faced while conducting the survey?

-A: I used an online survey and questionnaire software and I thought it would be easier than it turned out to be in reality! The major challenge was network coverage in the camps and, as I had to use internet in order to access the survey and to enter the beneficiaries’ responses, this was challenging. Off and on, I had to move around to try to get better connectivity. This was a patience exercise and sometimes the person I was interviewing would not be able to follow me as I searched for connection. Often, by the time the network was better, the survey would be “timed out” and I had to start all over again.


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-Q: Did you learn something new in the field?

-A: I learned that inside the camp you can buy a phone for two dollars and also that sharing a mobile phone is very common here. In many families, there was one phone per household, and children as well as youth and adults would use the same one.

-Q: What surprised you the most?

-A: The fact that, out of the fifty people I talked to, only two of them were not looking for friends or family members! In addition to this, most of them knew very little about the existing possibilities to search for their missing loved ones. This really shows the need to continue developing REFUNITE’s services in the DRC and try our best to help the population find their loved ones!

-Q: What will be the impact of this survey for our work at REFUNITE?

-A: We want to make REFUNITE’s service available and accessible to as many people as possible and we know that the need for family tracing is bigger than ever now. But we also need to make informed choices and tailor our services to the specific population. To do this, we have to go deep and understand our users better, together with their preferred technologies.

-Q: Any final thoughts on this journey? Something that left a mark on you?

-A: Yes! Among the countless stories of hardship and suffering I have heard of in the camps, there was one that gave me a lot of hope and optimism. I had the chance to meet and talk to this mama who had lost contact with her relatives, including her parents and siblings, and she had not heard from them for years. When I started explaining to her REFUNITE’s mission of reconnecting refugees and displaced people with their long lost loved ones, I immediately saw her eyes lighting up and shining with joy and a whole new sense of hope..It was as if she had just found her family.


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5th September 2016.