29 Apr 2019
Alumnus helps those in need in D.R. Congo
Tom Russell is working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide emergency water, sanitation and hygiene services to some of the country’s most vulnerable people. Here, he explains his story and why he works to defeat some of the world’s deadliest diseases.
Tom works for Medair, an international emergency relief and recovery organisation that provides life-saving relief to people in need. The United Nations estimates that 12.8 million people need assistance in D.R. Congo, amidst violence, hunger, disease and extreme poverty.
Tom graduated from Loughborough in 2007 with a MSc in Water and Waste Engineering. He says, however, that he has always wanted to help people in need:
“Even before my studies began, I had a strong desire to use the knowledge gained through my Masters’ curriculum to serve people in need.
“It’s a real privilege to have access to such quality education and I wanted to make sure that what I learned would equip me to serve those who are less privileged.”
After working with international organisations on water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Ecuador and Haiti, Tom joined Medair in Madagascar in 2012, moving to D.R. Congo in 2017.
He currently works as Medair’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Advisor in Goma, the principal city in Nord Kivu Province in the east of the country.
Despite D.R. Congo being home to over 50% of Africa’s water reserves, around half of the 80 million people living in the country don’t have access to a safe water source. Large-scale violence and mass displacement in recent years, combined with unsanitary living conditions, have left many people vulnerable to outbreaks of deadly diseases such as malaria and cholera.
“Lack of access to sanitation facilities and safe drinking water in adequate quality and quantity, as well as the resulting inability to put into practice hygiene knowledge, are major contributors to illness and death in D.R. Congo, particularly for children,” says Tom.
“We are currently battling a virulent cholera outbreak. Cholera spreads via contaminated food and water. It is a disease that kills if left untreated.
“When a cholera outbreak is declared, we work against the clock to set up cholera treatment units and respond with protective measures in the affected communities, which includes improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation services.”
Medair was founded in 1989 and has since worked in over 30 countries to provide humanitarian aid.
As well as fighting malaria and cholera, it is also battling a deadly outbreak of Ebola. This is the second worst outbreak of the disease in recorded history, after the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, which killed over 11,000 people.
“The outbreak that was officially declared in August last year has been very hard to contain and already more than 1,100 people have been infected,” says Tom.
“Response work is tough, but the teams I support have been relentless, and have achieved a lot. As a result of their work, 90 health facilities, 35 schools, and 38 communities are better equipped to prevent the spread of Ebola.
"We accomplished this by providing training and support for putting in place infection prevention and control (IPC) measures, as well as through the provision of WASH infrastructure provided by Medair.
“We are fortunate enough to have worked in this region of D.R. Congo since 2013, so the communities and local authorities know us, and are supportive of our work.
“The situation in D.R. Congo is critical. Armed attacks have caused some of my Congolese colleagues to move to different parts of town or to relocate their families.
"Ebola threatens an already fragile health system with total collapse. It adds up to an exhausting living situation. I’m amazed by their resilience, still showing up to work each day and giving their best,” says Tom.
The challenging situation doesn’t stop Tom from reaching out to those in need in the country. “Life-saving aid for the people of D.R. Congo is now more important than ever,” he says.
“There are days that I do miss life in the UK but I’m also grateful that, together with my colleagues, I can deploy the lessons learned in university in this way and serve the people here. It’s such a privilege.
“The challenges and difficulties faced by people here are of such a magnitude that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. We can’t solve all their problems, but we can facilitate their survival and show them there is hope.”
We wish Tom the best of luck in his work.
Find out more about Medair.
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