Editor’s Note: On May 1, the Raise Hope for Congo campaign launched “I Am Congo,” a new video series highlighting voices from the ground. The series profiles five inspiring Congolese individuals—Fidel Bafilemba, Amani Matabaro, Denise Siwatula, Petna Ndaliko, and Dominique Bikaba—who are making a difference in their communities. Enough Said will be highlighting each video profile over the coming weeks.
As we entered the Yole!Africa compound in Goma, passing through a guarded gate that separated the center from the chaotic city streets, we felt as though we had stepped into an oasis. The four of us—our team travelling to collect the stories of five individuals for I Am Congo—had just finished our first attempt to film the streets of Goma. Our shoot was cut short with the arrival of members of the Congolese army who, to put it lightly, did not want to be on camera despite the official film permits we had in hand.
Young men were scattered around the Yole! compound preparing for the upcoming music and film festival—two were rapping to a heavy beat, others were practicing their dance moves, and others sat still watching the performances, their backs against the building’s walls painted with images conveying freedom and peace. It was a stark contrast to the blaring horns and armed men we had just been surrounded by.
Petna and other Yole! staff took us on a tour of the facilities and introduced us to some of the youth gathered for the day. Many of them were wearing t-shirts from the previous years’ festival with the silhouetted face of Patrice Lumumba (much like the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” image), representing the hope for political change and the pursuit of something better. The center is a rare place in eastern Congo where youth come together to do something different, where they can escape the chaos of Goma’s busy streets and relax in an atmosphere that feels like an alternate reality compared to what surrounds the concrete, barb-wired walls. Yole! provides not just a space and encouragement to explore, but also equipment—including microphones, speakers, laptops, and video cameras—and training for film editing, music, and other arts. Yole’s annual SKIFF Festival brings together an estimated 14,000 people for 10 days of movie screenings, performances, and exhibitions, creating community through art. A filmmaker himself, Petna created a space where youth can keep “building and not destroying.”
Petna faces many challenges in his work, and that day he told us about how local authorities had entered the compound the previous day and arrested some of the youth who were practicing without providing any reason. He also told us about the difficulties in obtaining a permit to build the stage for the 2011 SKIFF Festival, then just a couple days away. But the challenges do not stop there. Yole! has been robbed three times in the past year resulting in the loss of 15 laptops, two professional cameras, seven additional video cameras, two still cameras, and three external hard drives. In the case of the most recent robbery, which took place on April 24, five armed robbers, three of whom wore local police uniforms, took among their loot two external hard drives with footage of the recent controversial presidential and legislative elections. They also severely injured the center’s security guard.
Petna has created a space that fosters community, values freedom and expression, and provides youth an alternative to violence. He teaches them to speak up to challenge the status quo of oppression and instability through art therapy and peaceful expression, but this approach, like any other attempt to bring out change, makes Yole! a target. Despite all this, Petna refuses to stop. As he says cheerfully in the video, “The party goes on.”
At the center, we asked Petna what motivates him to continue in the face of these challenges. We could not have anticipated the answer: He recounted an experience when he visited HEAL Africa, a local hospital and organization providing services to communities and survivors of sexual violence, to project a film. In the audience was a woman who had not spoken at all since she had been raped. Moved by the film, she finally opened up. The four of us capturing and hearing this story stood frozen in place—the din of the nearby rap rehearsal seemed to lessen in the moment—as he recounted this story. We knew in that instant we had captured the core of what Petna does and why he does it.