THE BLOG

Dialing Up Hope Amid Civil War in the DRC

20/03/2014 15:12 GMT | Updated 19/05/2014 10:59 BST

A person who doesn't communicate is like a person who is imprisoned. They are excluded from the outside world, without information. They don't hear any news.

For the tens of thousands of displaced people in the Mugunga Camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), that's what life is like. The camp provides shelter, a place to weather out the civil war that has gripped this country for most of my adult life. But without communication, it also a form of prison.

You might wonder what the value of a mobile call is. But most people in this camp live on less that $1 a day. The children have very little. Nirere, who is nine, hadn't spoken to her mother for 15 months when I found her. The girl had come to the camp on crutches for medical treatment, but her mother had been left behind in their home village. She'd never used a phone before, but we were able to put them on touch. A look of joy crossed her face when she heard her mother's voice. And since making that call, Nirere has been reunited with her mother and they now live in the camp together.

Finding long-lost loved ones is never easy. Sometimes people have a number, but often they don't. We do it by word of mouth, or by working with Refugees United, an NGO that has had incredible success at reunited missing relatives.

You could say Mama Furaha was lucky. She had moved to the camp with her husband and nine children. But war had separated her from her brother, and she had heard he was in Uganda. They hadn't seen each other since 2012. We tried time and time again to put them in touch, but it never worked. Then, one day, she called and he answered. I don't think he could believe it when he heard her voice.

She was able to tell her brother where she was, and let him know about bad conditions at the camp, the lack of food. He said he would bring help, but just having news of her family seemed to fortify her. After the call, she told me: "that phone call was crucial for us."

This is the first time I have worked with displaced people. We've built four phone cabins at the camp, and I spend my days walking around, telling people they can use them for free.

Around 17,000 people living in the Mugunga Camp have access to our free mobile calling , but there's still plenty of work to do. So I keep on going around the camp, using my loudhailer. I get to meet so many people and hear so many stories. So many of them are sad stories, but I find putting people back in touch incredibly rewarding.

Some of these stories, including those of Nirere and Mama Furaha, are captured in a film shown on Firsts.com, which tells stories about a variety of people doing inspirational things for the first time.

What motivates me is to give to someone who is neglected, destitute and vulnerable - and to give a displaced person joie de vivre, of being considered a person like any other.

The people of Mugunga have lost so much. They should not have to lose touch with the world outside.

Jean Marie's words have been translated from his native language, French. Instant Network is a programme of the Vodafone Foundation, registered charity number 1089625.