November 12, 2021


Thanks to our fundraising campaign #CourageGoma, children like Jean Luc were able to return to their mother’s arms and AVSI DRC could rebuild schools and distribute food

Democratic republic of the Congo

On the morning of May 23, 2021, the day after Mount Nyiragongo volcano erupted, leaving 35 people dead and 30,000 displaced, AVSI’s social workers found Jean Luc, 11 years old, wandering through the city of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with tears in his eyes. 

"I don't know, I got lost," mumbled Jean Luc with a blank stare when the social worker asked where his parents were. "Last night, after the sky turned red, my parents grabbed my three little sisters and me, and we started running. There were too many people in the street. I fell down and never saw my family again."

After the eruption, thousands of people took the streets to get as far away from the lava flow as possible. Some, like Jean Luc, encamped in inner-city neighborhoods. Others walked miles, reaching Rwanda or the villages on the nearby mountains. 

After gaining the boy’s trust, AVSI’s social worker collected his personal information and, in coordination with the humanitarian response that had been activated, was able to reunite the family. Twenty-four hours later, after spending the night in a shelter, Jean Luc was back in his mom’s arms. The family was finally reunited but in conditions of extreme vulnerability. Jean Luc’s mom was so happy and relieved to find him again, but she visibly was in a state of shock. The population is used to displacement due to armed groups’ constant attacks, and families know how it can be easy to lose children in the midst of chaos. Hence, mothers often have strategies to avoid that – as, for instance, tying children’s hands to their own. Jean Luc’s mom could not stop blaming herself for not having used any strategy.

To ease the mother’s emotional state, who was traumatized from losing her son for a night, AVSI offered psychosocial support sessions. Jean Luc’s family also benefited from the distribution of various kits that AVSI made available to the most vulnerable families, such as non-food items and hygiene kits.

The lava and earthquakes caused by the volcano eruption have destroyed or damaged many schools in the area, making them unsafe. The population, the government, and NGOs like AVSI are still working to ensure the community can recover and start again.

“I can’t go to the market,” says Jean Luc’s mother. “The school is no longer there, and I can’t leave my children alone, it’s too dangerous, and my husband works and is away during the day.”

Thanks to many generous donations, AVSI reunited families, distributed food, and water, offered psychological support and managed to ensure schools’ safety. AVSI is currently working in 7 schools in need of rehabilitation and construction: in two of them, Jean Luc and his sisters, ages 6, 9, and 11, are students.

Responding to the emergency wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t even though the lava has dried up, the gases have shut off, and the earthquakes have stopped. 

Stories like Jean Luc’s, though, are what keep us moving and working.

thanks to our donors, we were able to

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