Last week, we were lucky enough to spend four days with Dominique Bikaba, one of the activists from our “I Am Congo” video series. Dom is the third of the featured activists to visit the Enough Project in the last year: Fidel came in 2011 and Amani earlier this year. Each of these visits is a special opportunity for us at the Enough Project to witness how truly exceptional the activists we work with are, especially since not all of us have had the chance to visit Congo ourselves. The visits bring a fresh perspective to the Raise Hope for Congo campaign. It’s one thing to be able to watch activists’ videos and feel inspired by their stories. But when they come to D.C. and stand up, center stage, fighting for change in their country, it sends a powerful message.
Dom, Fidel, and Amani have all added their own stories and messages to our campaign. Their stories illustrate just how many different lives the conflict in Congo has impacted; and despite the violence and the chaos, strong voices have emerged to give hope to their people.
Dom spent four days presenting his work and engaging with leaders, decision makers, and activists in D.C., including officials at the State Department, USAID, and the World Wildlife Fund, ultimately visiting with 15 offices and organizations.
In his presentations, Dom discussed the security situation in Congo as it affects his conservation efforts. His organization, Strong Roots, focuses on conservation and development through education and direct interaction with local communities. Strong Roots plants 100,000 trees per year, which are then used to build homes, buildings, and school desks. The organization works with 21 schools around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park educating youth about conservation needs and ways to take care of the environment in which they live. Strong Roots also works with 121 families by giving them land and training them in agricultural techniques so that they can grow food and sustain themselves. He is also working to address the impact of the encroachment by M23 rebels and poachers on the habitats of mountain gorillas.
Dom’s mission is to work with the national government to establish community forests governed by provincial authorities. By eliminating the challenge of trying to engage with a distant, centralized authority, local communities can care for their homes in a more effective way. These efforts face challenges of poverty, limited resources, and above all, insecurity posed by various armed groups. However, Dom is optimistic for Congo’s future: “If we are able to make a decision to change, we can succeed. We need to get everyone engaged. There is a problem of poverty and a lack of a second choice, but if we remove this, we can understand and we can change. That is where we find hope.”
Photo: Dominique Bikaba and Raise Hope for Congo Campaign Manager JD Stier in front of the World Wildlife Fund (Enough / Aileen Andres)