“A great dignity in undignified conditions”

The indigenous Aka in the Central African Republic are extremely poor and the victims of open discrimination. FAIRMED employee and ethnologist Johanna Vögeli experienced first-hand how they brave their situation and the role of community in this struggle.

Julienne Mokongo has walked 90 kilometers with a cyst in her stomach

She recently travelled to the Lobaye prefecture in the heart of the African continent to visit the Aka people. In these remote villages, Vögeli experienced the deepest poverty: “I have been to many countries, but I have never seen such extreme destitution. Open wounds, children with distended stomachs, people in ragged clothes. Many of these possess only a single garment and a few palm leaves on which to sleep.” Moreover, as an ethnic minority, the life of the Aka is marked by discrimination, severe exploitation and sharply increasing violence.

However, despite this seemingly hopeless situation, they are not losing heart: “For the people in the villages, giving up is simply not an option. I met a woman who walked 90 kilometres on foot in three days while suffering enormous pain from a two-kilogram cyst in her stomach. Again and again, I witnessed incredible dignity under inhumane conditions, which left me deeply impressed.”

Close to nature and great social warmth
But where do the Aka find their strength? “There is a strong social cohesion in the community. They are lifted by their social warmth and an extraordinary closeness to nature,” explains Vögeli. Accordingly, it is vital that FAIRMED employees gain an understanding of the social fabric of the community in order to gain access to the Aka.

As with all projects, FAIRMED thus relies exclusively on local employees, in this case from the Lobaye prefecture of the Central African Republic. Such an approach is the only way to achieve the project aim of providing the Aka with long-term access to quality healthcare services.