COVID-19 Mutoshi project: A review of its impact


The context

Trafigura’s support for the Mutoshi community dates back to January 2018. Over the following two years, we worked alongside international development NGO Pact to set up and road test a collaborative model of semi-mechanised, small-scale mining that delivered higher safety standards and improved economic conditions for local miners.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) recorded its first COVID case on 10th March 2020. Within a fortnight it had declared a state of emergency, with border crossings closed and a ban on 20+ gatherings.

The relatively high rate of transmission in confined spaces put small-scale miners at particular risk, especially those working in teams. These new realities made it increasingly hard to maintain a safe working environment and by the end of the month, the project concession holder Chemaf halted the Mutoshi Pilot Project.

With operations suspended, the community lost an important source of income. Both Trafigura and Pact were determined to support the Mutoshi people during this challenging period.


Our approach

A few months later, Trafigura and Pact launched a 3-month COVID action project to help build up public health defences and mitigate the economic consequences of the pandemic for the 64,000-strong Mutoshi community. The project was managed through the community cooperative, COMIAKOL, which had coordinated local participation in the Mutoshi Pilot Project.

Trafigura’s USD 300,000 capital injection sponsored a Pact-led initiative that prioritised swift, effective measures. This set out to protect health and develop community resilience while ensuring that any economic benefits accrued locally. It invested in local resources to deliver education, sanitisation and personal protection equipment (PPE).


Educational outreach

Raising awareness was a key early priority. COVID was still widely seen locally as a disease mainly affecting rich countries. These kinds of myths had to be countered and local people needed practical guidance on how to protect themselves and each other. To make that happen, the project enlisted local ambassadors who could relay these messages in a relatable way.

Lukana Mudiata, a respected local farmer and family man, was chosen to spearhead the community sensitisation programme. He was well qualified, having previously worked on vaccination promotion programmes. He credits his training from Pact for helping him communicate effectively with different audiences.

“I try to approach people with simplicity and humility,” says Lukana. “I reached over 2,000 people during the three months. I did awareness-raising sessions in schools, at the market, in churches and on doorsteps. I also appeared on television.

Initially, the miners never wanted to hear about COVID at their workplace. They saw it as a waste of time; for them, this was a disease that only happened to wealthy people. In the end, they listened and now cannot even eat a doughnut without washing their hands. They also wear masks now when they are working together. I believe our efforts have made a difference and I feel honoured to have been able to contribute to the fight against this disease.”


Training initiatives

Training was a particular project focus. Pact coordinated programmes that taught local people how to make masks and soap. The project then supported their activities by buying and distributing much of their output.

Ilunga N’kulu was one of the 100 local people that learnt how to make soap and masks. He lives with his wife – a Mutoshi quarry trader, their 6-year-old daughter and two sisters-in-law. Previously most of his income came from selling soft drinks. His first two months in soap production earned him over USD 600, with the project buying many of the 2,000 soaps he made over that period.

Today, Ilunga is an entrepreneur and community trainer. He continues to produce and sell his soap locally, mainly to schools, churches and orphanages, and is now passing on his skills to others. “Since the end of the project, I have continued to make soaps,” he says, “I now rent a room where I work with my team. Soap consumption has increased because people have understood the need to wash their hands regularly to curb the spread.”


Economic support

The action project has also leveraged existing, Trafigura-supported, Pact initiatives, which have been building up community skills and resilience for several years.

Koj Ngwej, for instance, gained a Pact welding apprenticeship as a 15-year-old. At the present day, he earns enough not just to meet his family’s immediate needs but to save for the future. And he has big plans. “I dream of creating a microenterprise from a large welding workshop that I will create very soon,” he says. For now, Koj’s current workshop is getting busier. It has made and sold over 50 handwashing stations. These are becoming even more popular, as people recognise the need.

Kapinga Mulamba is another apprenticeship programme beneficiary. The 16-year-old opted to learn tailoring. Since graduation, she mostly works from home, but still visits her mentor’s workshop regularly – to recharge the batteries for her Pact-provided sewing machine, for advice on complex items and, sometimes, to take on jobs when her own business is quieter.

She began making and selling face masks for the action project. “I found it very profitable and have continued to produce them since the project closed. I’m able to support my family and I also save 50,000 FC (USD 25) every month. I have now bought a second machine. Thanks to Pact, I am able to advance in my profession.”


Tangible results

Overall, the project achieved all its main objectives and exceeded expectations. It ended in February 2021 after a two-month extension. By then, 36,340 facemasks and 13,355 bars of soap had been allocated locally, 15 handwashing stations were installed and 100 local people had had training and support producing PPE. The project ran public health advertising that reached over 700,000 people; 126,000 of them received specific training on social distancing. Within a relatively short timescale, it delivered tangible economic, social and public health benefits for the Mutoshi people and, in the process, helped save lives.