We set out to eastern Congo a few weeks ago to highlight what life has been like for five people surrounded by this conflict that has lasted for over 15 years, and each person we met reshaped any preconceived notions about where this journey would take us. We’ve returned even more curious than when we began, inspired to continue to do everything we can from our position to end the conflict, and excited to share with you faces beyond statistics that we’ve gotten to know over the past couple of weeks.
In a first post written from the region, John and I reflected briefly on the inspiring work of everyday citizens in Goma working to directly impact what they can on a daily basis around them.
At our second city to visit, Bukavu, we met with Amani, who told us how the secondary school he attended instilled in him the values of community and service that drive his work today. Amani only wishes that he could send his children to this same school, but the situation today remains too insecure in this area of the country. Just two months ago, the FDLR attacked and abducted the head priest at the school. So Amani strives to educate his children and many other kids in the community in these same values by establishing vocational training programs, building open-air markets in areas in need, and providing scholarships for children orphaned from the conflict through his organization Action Kivu.
We also met Dominique, who told us stories of his childhood living in a rural community, recalling a connection and love for the surrounding forest and the wildlife passed down from his grandmother. Insecurity led Dominique to move to the city, but after seeing years of conflict destroy the landscape near where he grew up, he is fighting back to secure the future of the forest. Through his work leading Strong Roots, Dominique runs various conservations projects, and has provided thousands of trees to rural communities near his home village, providing alternate sources of firewood and timber to deter deforestation in the national park.
We think of these five individuals every day upon returning, but what has also stayed with us are the stories we weren't able to fully capture on this first trip. Take Mama Muliri, a community leader with Heal Africa. We met Mama Muliri just after Sunday church service in her neighborhood in Goma.
Mama Muliri was dressed in her Sunday best, as were the hundred or so filing out of the church as the service ended. The 2002 eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano near Goma covered around 70 percent of the city, and this church was built from chiseled lava right on top of a bed of rock, making for a jarring juxtaposition between brightly colored clothing and the black, jagged landscape.
As we described the purpose of our trip to the region, and how we wanted to tell stories beyond statistics, Mama Muliri nodded in agreement. For the next several minutes we stood transfixed by the stories she wanted to share that she comes across through her work—about women that she meets with on a daily basis healing from and moving beyond trauma. They are receiving microloans to start businesses, sending their children to school, and are rebuilding their lives and communities.
We only were able to steal a few minutes of Mama Muliri’s time, but these are the stories—of individuals like Amani, Dominique, and thousands of others fighting for their lives and their communities—that motivate me in this work. We can’t wait to share more about our trip over the coming months.
Photo: Dominique works to protect the surrounding forest and the wildlife through his organization, Strong Roots (Enough/Jeff Trussell)