"The Gains of a Fitness Boot Camp"

As the sun sets in Uvira, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a group of colleagues are twisting and stretching in readiness for an hour of physical activity. There is usually between six to nine staff attending this evening exercise routine that happens three times a week. It may not seem like anything out of the ordinary to take time to exercise; but for the staff of this hardship site, taking a moment to release steam in what we termed as ‘the boot camp’ is helping them cope with working under difficult conditions.

“It started as a joke, but now it is part of our everyday routine,” explains Ene Abah, the Head of Office in this site of 55 colleagues. “I am an exercise buff and even here in Uvira, I make time to work out and stay fit. For me, exercising not only keeps me fit but is also a form of release for my mind, because our work although rewarding, can sometimes be very challenging.”

One of the staff took notice of Ene’s consistency in exercising and wanted to learn more about how to keep fit and lose some weight. “I jokingly told her that I would be her coach and she took me seriously. During the Regional Ombudsman for Africa's visit to the site, he proposed team building activities. This activity was put on the table and it just took a life of its own from there. Word spread in the office that I was going to be conducting some training sessions and that is how it all started,” narrates Ene.

Unrest is common in Uvira. Located in South Kivu province, on the border of Burundi and Rwanda, it is known to be unpredictable because it is the center of activism. It takes two days to get to Uvira from Kinshasa and a day on harsh terrain from Bukavu, which is 134 km away. Ene and the team cover a wide area in South Kivu despite the bad roads and many security challenges. Often, they work on autopilot because it is a round-the-clock mission.

Besides the work, living conditions are tough. Common amenities like restaurants, well-equipped hospitals and supermarkets are not available. Drivers have it worse because they must navigate these very rough roads daily. Therefore, the idea of exercising was warmly welcomed and accepted.

“Besides keeping fit, it is a form of relaxation and a distraction from work. It has also helped us bond as a team and we see less of a divide between the staff as we exercise our stress away together,” says Ene.

The ICRC office is one of the only organizations in Uvira that has expatriate staff on site. For other organizations, the expatriate staff mostly come in and leave by the end of the week, and do not have a permanent presence.

Now, exercise has opened doors for the team to bond and do other activities together. One step towards fitness has led to more steps towards wellbeing and inclusion.

This post was featured on the ICRC Global Internal platform...the year has started with a bit of publicity 😃😃



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