Millions of people around the world face disaster every day. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), families have lived through decades of conflict. Today, attacks, abductions, and sexual violence remain constant threats in some regions. But now, with Oxfam's support, women are joining forces to stand up to violence.
When Sylvie Mapendo recalls her childhood in the Katoyi region of DRC, she describes a place very different to the Buporo camp she now calls home. "There were many streams and rolling hills," Sylvie says. "It was a happy life. I used to dance, use skipping ropes and play games with our neighbours."
That life now seems very distant. After rebels chased Sylvie out of her village two years ago, she fled with nothing. She now brings up her four children alone in a cramped bamboo hut with plastic sheeting for a roof. Her husband fell ill in the camp and died late last year. "From the first time I saw him I fell in love with him," she says sadly.
Camps like Buporo are tough places to live. Disease can spread fast. Clean water is often hard to come by. And the threat of sexual violence is very real - Sylvie admits that being attacked is one of her greatest worries.
And yet, among the fear and struggle, hope is also growing. As well as building water tanks, showers, taps and other essentials, Oxfam is helping communities to form support groups and tackle the threats they face together by building links with local authorities.
Sylvie is one of hundreds of women who have joined one of the women's groups. "I'm now a mediator," she says, "and I'm proud when relationships are restored so people can live and share with their neighbours."
Why we've launched the Strength to Survive appeal
In 2015, millions of families will face heartbreaking disaster. The lives of parents and children will be torn apart. Loved ones will be lost. Futures will be shattered. But with your support, these same families can be stronger than war. Stronger than floods. Stronger than droughts.
With Oxfam's Strength to Survive Appeal, you can be there when it matters most. You can be the difference between life and death when disaster strikes. And you can help people piece their lives back together when the dust settles.
When disaster strikes for people like Sylvie and Louise, you can give hope
With your support, families in crisis can gain the strength to survive.
- £25 could pay for a phone for a month, so a community can contact Oxfam if they are in danger.
- £38 could start a woman's protection group, so women can tackle security and safety threats together.
- £150 could support an entire community to protect women and girls from harm and sexual abuse.
Strength to survive: donate now
Donate today to give people like Sylvie and Louise the strength to survive and thrive - and UK government will match your donation
Like Sylvie, Louise also fled fighting in Katoyi. Before arriving at the Buporo camp, she spent time living in desperate conditions on a mountainside. While she was there, three of her children and her husband fell ill and died within a single week.
Today, as a member of the same women's group as Sylvie, she has a fierce determination to help women understand their rights and challenge the culture of violence. Sylvie and Louise support women to share their concerns, speak up in public forums and find solutions that bring about real change - on issues from staying safe while collecting firewood to visiting relatives who have been arrested without reason. "The group has identified three areas to focus on: people being arbitrarily arrested, sexual violence and early marriage," she says.
Volunteer 'agents of change' then spread the word about the groups' work to people in neighbouring villages.
"Before the women's forum, the authorities would not feedback easily," Louise says. "Now we have visibility. Even the authorities and the police respect us. Now things are open."
Change that lasts
The protection groups give people in DRC a voice. And, as our Protection Programme Manager Adel Sasvari says, that can make a permanent difference. "When people meet and collaborate to solve problems, they have immense power to work together over the long term," she says. "We do a food distribution once and it is eaten, these community changes last."
By donating to our Strength to Survive appeal, you can help people to survive when disaster strikes and - like Sylvie and Louise - to build a new life after a crisis, for themselves and their families.
The number of people forced from their homes by war or disaster doubled in the past decade, and with emergencies like the continued fighting in Syria and the recent landslides in Haiti, our disaster response teams are needed more than ever.
Strength to survive: donate now
Photos: Eleanor Farmer