Hope Rising, a documentary about The American Bible Society’s efforts to bring trauma healing to the Congo is going to be played on some local ABC stations beginning November 16. However, it airs here in Philadelphia on November 30 in the wee hours of the morning. I make a brief cameo in the documentary. Plus many of my friends doing the work are featured quite a bit. It will be aired on another local ABC affiliate channel, #246, the Live Well Network (LWN) on December 3. But, as they say, check your local listings or follow the instructions on this page to ask your local affiliate to air the program. In the meantime, check out this trailer,
Tag Archives: Democratic Republic of Congo
Followers of this blog will know that I have been to Eastern Congo and am passionate about the people there. You also know that there is a rather ugly and complex struggle for power in that region. This link to a Huff Post opinion piece provides an insight to some of those current complexities from an insider’s perspective. For example, some found the M23 group as elevating safety over that of the government soldiers. And yet, the M23 group may be funded by outsiders with evil intent.
I highly recommend you read it. You might ask why, since what goes on in the DRC has little to do with your life. You should care because,
- the extent of the recent decades of disaster there will boggle your mind and overshadow nearly every other disaster you care about
- these are our brothers and sisters and we are called to love our neighbor
The author, Julia Lewis, concludes her essay this way
The sad fact is that violence in the DRC is constant. As Congolese activist Vava Tampa recently reported in an article on CNN, the conflicts in DRC
… have claimed nearly the same number of lives as having a 9/11 attack every single day for 360 days, the genocide that struck Rwanda in 1994, the ethnic cleansing that overwhelmed Bosnia in the mid-1990s, the genocide that took place in Darfur, the number of people killed in the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004, and the number of people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — all combined and then doubled.
What will happen next in DRC? Anything is possible — and we need the world to keep listening. As many as 5.4 million people died in the last Congo war. That is fact, not fiction. And we cannot afford for it to happen again.
Last year I had the privilege of touring Goma (search Congo 0r Goma or DRC in my search engine above) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It is a city on the northern edge of Lake Kivu and on the border with Rwanda. Residents of Goma (and all of the displaced persons) have known much tragedy, especially since 1994 when the genocide in Rwanda spilled over into the DRC. There have been African multicountry wars, ethnic conflicts, rampant poverty, corruption, an ineffective central government…and now, today, it has fallen into the hands of a relatively small band of rebels called M23.
If you are like most, you find the regions somewhat confusing. You’ve heard about the area being deemed the rape capitol of the world. You’ve heard it is an area rich in minerals. You may have heard recently that Rwanda has been accused of supporting the M23 group. But, you probably find it hard to keep the various acronyms clear in your mind and the situation in Gaza and Israel get most of the conflict attention these days.
Please pray for those in the DRC. Pray for rescue. Pray that the international community will care about them and put proper pressure on the various parties. Pray for the restraint of evil. And if you would like more information, read this link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/11/20/a-guide-to-understanding-whats-happening-in-congo/
Have you seen the video already? As of Monday, March 12, the youtube counter was at 74 million views. Not bad for 6 days. The video, as I am sure you already know, was created by Invisible Children, and organization designed to advocate for the protection of children in central Africa and programs of help (tracking Kony’s militia, educating children, early warning detection, etc.). Their primary purpose is to (a) educate the world about the abuses and terrorism of Joseph Kony, and (b) keep up the political pressure on decision makers so that they do not drop the ball on the efforts to arrest Kony. If you are not aware, President Obama sent 100 military advisors to the region to support national troops in their search for Kony. Kony2012 is meant to maintain political and cultural pressure to keep searching for him (20 power brokers, 12 politicians= 2012).
Of course, with every good intention, comes criticism and controversy. You can read a number of complaints about the efforts. Invisible Children (IC)
- advocate US military involvement in a foreign country where we do not have significant interests
- spend only some 37% of donations in Africa on programs
- imply in the video that Kony is attacking Ugandans when he hasn’t been there for 6 years
- make no mention of the destruction by Kony in the DRC and the CAR.
- further the idea that the white man needs to save Africa
Do a little homework and you realize that IC is promoting Kony’s capture (not death), is designed to be an advocate and not primarily a service program in Africa, and knows that Kony isn’t in Uganda anymore. I suppose the complaint that has the most merit is that the video perpetuates the idea that white people have to solve Africa’s problem. It might have been helpful to show what Africans are doing already.
So your thoughts? Does the video spur you on to help? Does the recent take downs of dictators fuel our willingness to remove tyrants from power? Should we solve other country’s problems? Given the DRC’s lack of a strong central government, ought we to act first and apologize later?
I would suggest that the video does its job in a bit of education with a focus on action steps. A video that just gives the gory facts (and pictures) often just traumatizes and paralyzes. It could have played up the footage in such a way as to make it seem like Africans are violent people–or corrupt. The film could have talked about the immense forests of the DRC and that finding Kony will be finding a needle in a haystack. Or, it could have played to all that IC has done in a self-promotional manner. Yet it did none of those things. It made mention of the need, the desire of Africans to bring Kony to justice, and the opportunity average people have to help leaders keep their eye on the ball.
My thoughts? Watch the video. Engage in some good conversation about how Christians can speak up about evils done to nameless/faceless people. Debate the merits of propaganda for a good cause. Discuss practical ways to influence power. Decide if IC is a good place for your funds and if not, find another doing the work you cannot do yourself. Speak up for justice. Review the electronic action kit.
PS: Here is a great (bit long) perspective from Drs who have a deep and abiding love for Uganda and Jesus: http://paradoxuganda.blogspot.com/2012/03/on-kony-and-viruses.html
Today, November 28, 2011, Congolese have been voting in presidential and parliament elections. For those of you who followed my DRC/Rwanda trip posts, I encourage you to lift up this country, its leaders, and the people. As you likely know, the country has a weak central government, an assortment of militias roaming the north and east, wrecking havoc in the form of rape where ever they go. It is a lovely country, resource rich (minerals) and yet one of the poorest places in the world.
Pray for no violence. Pray for leaders with integrity. Pray for the church to be the church. Pray for nonprofit ministries like the Bible Society in the Congo. Pray for a united will among all the peoples to stand against rape.
Read this short news item in the WSJ on the elections.
October 21-22, 2011, Kigali, Rwanda
Friday morning and we are up by 6 am. Have to pack this morning because we have to be out of our rooms. As soon as we finish the conference we must say our goodbyes and get to the airport. We have breakfast with Robert Briggs of the American Bible Society. He’s on his way to a United Bible Society meeting in Kenya. Our conference begins with Diane
Langberg and Carol King covering the topics of lament and grief. After their presentations, the participants practiced writing their own laments. We made time for sharing them with others. We concluded this section with a choral reading of Scriptural laments. This choral reading was compiled by Lynn MacDougall and quite moving for all. We had enough time before lunch for me to teach a bit on vicarious trauma.
After lunch, I did a short teaching on peer supervision. It is important for these caregivers to support each other and so I taught on how to do case consultations and to write-up case study/questions. After finishing this teaching, Baraka led the participants in a “What next” brainstorm. Their main recommendation was to form an association of counselor/caregivers–Rwandan Association of Christian Counseling as a place to get further support, training and to share resources. They wanted a website that would allow them to connect via social media. As they explored their current needs, many said that the number one need is ongoing mentoring. Others talked of finding ways to get paid for their work in counseling. Many spoke of the need for skills and training in dealing with drug and alcohol issues, sexuality, gender-based violence, depression, and anxiety. They asked for trainings 2 times per year. The group decided to appoint a few of the attendees to a committee to see these recommendations to completion.
We concluded our time by asking them to tell us what parts they liked the most. They liked the small group activities. They wanted these to go longer. They liked the role plays and want more. They would like PowerPoint slides (we didn’t do these but handed out outlines) and for speakers to speak slower English. We promised to send them a PDF of our talks and outlines for them to have in electronic form.
Our final activity was to hand out the certificates for real. I got the pleasure of doing this and getting a hug and a picture from each attendee. We said our goodbyes, made a quick change of clothes and headed off to the car to take us to the airport. Just as we were about to get in the car, we were given handkerchiefs each with notes and signatures from the attendees. A sweet parting gift!
Friday night at 7 pm, we boarded our plane (Brussels Air) to start the trip back home. The flight was full and our seats were all over the plane so no debriefing for us. For the next 10 hours (including a stop in Nairobi), I was jammed into a middle seat without leg room (front role of cattle class). Arriving in Brussels by 6 am, we managed to get coffee, chat a bit with each other, and buy some Belgian chocolates for the family. After a total of 28 hours of travel, we arrived back in Philadelphia, PA. 42 hours of no sleep (all day Friday and the night and then most of Saturday) but I arrived home wired and ready to tell my family about what I had seen. Funny, as I tried to tell them about my trip, I found I was having a hard time making sense of everything. I’m not sure it was just because I was tired but more because I had too many thoughts and feelings and was without words to express it all.
As I post this, I am now 1 month from the end of this trip. It is still hard to be concise about the trip. We learned much, saw much, and have ideas about how we can have an impact on future counseling training in Rwanda and the DRC. Clearly, we need to do more live vignettes for the counselor trainees. And we can impact the area by offering materials to existing schools.
I am blessed to have been able to do this work. Probably more blessed than the recipients! I couldn’t have asked for a more successful trip, better travel connections (well, unless someone has a teleporter lying around), or better travel companions. Can’t wait til the next time.
A breakfast of coffee, fruit and egg and we’re off visiting rape victims and those who help them today. First stop is the DOCS hospital (Doctors on Call for Service) run by a gynecologist, Dr. Ahuka Ona Longombe. This hospital specializes in obstetrics and in fistula surgery for rape victims. Dr. Ahuka if a larger than life, forceful personality. The ABS has done some partnering to provide the hospital with some better equipment. After touring the facility, he took us to a room to show us his PowerPoint presentation on the causes of sexual violence, the impact on women and the work they do to repair. It was a difficult slide show (with a few pictures!). If you think of rape as forced intercourse only, think again!
He showed us current stats (42,225 cases of reported sexual violence as of 2 years ago). He pointed out how these stats are very likely LOW due to stigma, violence, and the complexities of multiple reporting agencies. Victims during the reporting period are 21% little girls, 56% young women, and 23% old women.
Only 25% get treatment within the desired 3 days.
While they do HIV/STD testing and treatment, medical, surgical, nursing, spiritual, and legal care, Dr. Ahuka repeatedly begged for help for the psychological damage. As a team we discussed whether it would be possible to send two high level interns (even post grads) for 6 months to focus on training nursing and doctor staff as well as lay people from local churches who might reach out and care for the spiritual needs of these terribly traumatized women. Interns would have to be able to speak French.
Leaving the hospital we traveled some very bumpy roads to Sister Alvera’s home. Now, all roads are bumpy in Goma. But these roads were the bumpiest. I kept expecting to lose teeth or an axle. Sister Alvera, a nun who runs an orphanage and home for raped women, was not home but they were expecting us. We came for the express purpose of talking to two women who have been treated by Dr. Ahuka for fistulas and who were willing to tell their trauma story. We were most interested to hear how they are learning to cope. The first young woman, C, had bright eyes and passion all about her. We met in her small abode, something akin to a shed in this country. She told of her rape and her treatments. Through the translator we heard how she experiences both joy and deep pain (she has been rejected by her family because of the rape). She described her struggle with dissociation as, “getting lost in my mind.” Sleeping, talking to the local pastor and being prayed for were helpful interventions. Near the end of our time with C we heard her lament that she could not find her attacker in order to forgive him. The pressure to do so seemed to eat at her. She felt she could not rest until she forgave him. Diane had the presence to respond that while she wasn’t able to find him, God could see her heart and the forgiveness in it. This seemed very meaningful to C.
The 2nd woman, X, had been raped and given birth to a child. The child had been rejected but lived in the compound. Sitting with X was her new little baby who played with nearby fingers and nursed when fussy. This woman was far more triggered during our conversations. Her eyes were missing light. She did not look present. However, she described a caring husband and pastor who helped her cope with her trauma experiences.
The rain, which had been pounding down for our interviews let up just as we were getting ready to run to our vehicles to leave. A view of several green cauldrons came into view through the puffy clouds passing by. From the Sister’s place we traveled to the local bible society office. We got to see the bibles we would be giving out the next day as well as opportunity to meet the staff. I can attest to two things about the bible society. They keep amazing records on all the widows and children they serve (food, stuffs, etc.) and they do not spend their money on expensive property. Back in 2002, their offices were destroyed by the lava eruption and now they rent rather humble space. If you give the bible society, you can expect your money to go to people and services, not bricks and mortar!
We ended the day back that the hotel with a enjoyable dinner meeting with World Relief country director, Charles Franzen, and two of his staff. Our dinner was outside under a thatch canopy and just above the loud lapping waves of Kivu. I can only describe him as a character–in the best sense of the word. He speaks Swahili but not French and has lived for many years in East Africa. We had wide-ranging conversations about Africa, Baltimore (his home town), baseball (his dislike for Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox) and football (soccer). And of course the work of trauma recovery was a central topic this evening.
Up by 5:30am, a nice breakfast (omelet, Nescafe, fresh avocado half, and bread with Nutella), and then a trip to the airport to catch another MAF flight hop south to Beni (3 hour stop) and then on to Goma in the afternoon.
The flight to Beni from Bunia lasts about 35 minutes and travels a over verdant landscapes criss-crossed with reddish dirt paths. Wish we could stop here and there to check out some of the remote places. We see frequent fires being used to burn vegetation to prepare the land for farming. We arrived on time to Beni, a tiny dirt-tracked airport. I do not believe the small building space we walked through had electricity. Surprisingly, the road outside the airport was paved. In fact, it was the best paved road I saw in all of the DRC. We hear that the Chinese built it. What is the pay off for them I wonder.
Our quick car trip takes us to UCBC, a bilingual christian university in the town. We met with a number of young teachers and staff along with Daniel Masumbuko Kasereka, the chaplain and an administrator. The school was running some intensive English language classes in preparation of the start of a new term. Here too we hear about the trauma in students and the negative impact on their learning. We also learn about their attempts to bring some trauma recovery to the community by hosting some seminars using the trauma/reconciliation materials of Rhiannon Lloyd. We hear of sex trafficking and abduction of women by militias. Our time is short but we do have some good conversation with them. Nice to meet Baraka Kasali, the son of the rector and someone who clearly was raised in the US but using his talents in this small area. Also, met an American, Bethany Earickson who teaches English here.
Our time is short so we say our goodbyes (after using the pit toilets), pile back in the car and head back to the MAF plane awaiting our trip to Goma. We arrive at Goma around 1:00pm. Sadly, it was raining and so we did not get a view of the massive volcano just outside Goma. Instead we dodged clouds, flew over high peaks and Lake Albert, and then flew just above the tree tops to avoid turbulence.
First sights at the airport are rusting UN aircraft, lookouts, someone who demands money for landing, and customs officials who laboriously re-enter all of our visa information. Our passports disappear and then reappear. Not sure what they do with them.The trip to the hotel is our first glimpse of this chaotic city. All streets are rutted with potholes and unpaved. Piles of lava chunks litter the streets. Besides potholes and lava, you see boys going in every direction pushing the congolese “bike” as they transport goods hither and yon?
We arrive at Hotel Linda by 2pm. Hotel Linda sits on the edge (literally) of Lake Kivu. It is a beautiful view and beautiful sound (waves). This will be our home base for the next several days. Kingfishers are sitting on flowers outside my room. I find that the hotel has a public computer and free (slow) internet so I quick pop off an email to my family to let them know we have arrived. We have time to rest and talk about what we have so far seen and heard and how we might develop a trauma curriculum for training the faculties of various schools. For dinner, I choose Capitaine fish (chunks not fillet) cooked in spices and a banana leaf. Excellent.
Tomorrow begins an intense time of listening to trauma workers and trauma victims.
October 12, 2011
Woke up to a beautiful morning in Entebbe. Enjoyed a brief walk along Lake Victoria and the garden areas just outside our hotel. Everything is green and warm. Ate a breakfast of roasted vegetables, croissant, a tamarillo (tree tomato), and coffee. Also read the local English paper. It was all about anti-corruption in politics. Seems to be a universal problem.
Wanted to tell my family that I had arrived safely but the Blackberry system had crashed in Europe and Africa so I resorted to finding a nearby business center that charged me 2 dollars for 30 minutes of internet access. I’m reminded how fast our net speed is here in the states.
By 1 pm we were in the air in a 10 passenger Cessna operated by Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). I got to sit right behind the pilot and had a great view of the landscape below. The short videos I took do not do the landscape justice. But what I saw looked like Savannah (grasslands with stands of palm and other trees) bisected by dirt trails/roads and dotted with small villages and neat terraced farmland. Some abodes had metal roofs whole others were clearly thatch. Throughout our trip we saw small fires being used to clear land for farming.
Our flight took us from Entebbe, Uganda northwest to Bunia, DRC, across the southern end of Lake Albert. Bunia was the site of terrible fighting in 2003-4 between warring tribes, renegade militias, and both Ugandan and Rwandan military. From my seat behind the pilot I got a great view of the runway and the significant presence of UN peacekeepers around the airport. One of the reasons this area has so much UN presence is that it is rich in gold, diamonds, and other important natural resources. Prominent at the airport are rusting and cannibalized UN aircraft.
On the ground, we were met by DRC bible society staff who helped us through the customs. Though we had already secured visas, we were still asked to fill out all the same information and demanded that we present additional passport photos (that we did not have). Our handlers spoke both in French and Swahili and at some point the officials relented. DRC is known for the reality of bribes. However, I did not see money exchange hands. To us US folks, bribes only represent individual corruption. But, I’ve come to understand that many officials in the DRC do not get paid and thus the bribe becomes one way to make some money.
Without much delay we were on our way to Shalom University where we met with faculty and administration to discuss the needs around trauma counseling. The University has a great research department and is having students do field survey work to understand the extent of rape and other traumas as well as the problem of literacy. They spoke of a couple of trauma trainings that had been brought to campus and how they were helpful but not yet enough. One of the key problems was the fact that many good students are still struggle with war/conflict related trauma and are not doing as well as they could. They would like training for their faculty to address the needs of students in all departments.
After the meeting, we were shown around the campus where we saw the chapel, the new library building, some student housing and the house of a top administrator. As we passed the student housing–cinder block 2 room abodes that might have had electricity but surely no other amenities as the outhouses were about 15 feet from the front doors and the “stove” was an outdoor fire pit–I was reminded just how blessed we are in the US. Many of us would think that this housing was traumatizing when I suspect these students are quite thankful for the opportunity to study and live in a relatively safe environment. Each house had a small garden of beans and other veggies for their food.
Once our meetings were done we then followed Bagu (our ABS host/guide) to the church he planted and had built here while a student at the university. We met a couple of the pastors there who showed us the grounds. This is a burgeoning church with English, French, and Swahili congregations. While there we ran into a choir practice–teens practicing their English singing. In the dusk of the night and in the cramped quarters of a side shack outside the church we were treated with one of their songs. What I am struck with is how much activity, growth, and excitement there is around this church where if it were in the US would be seen as squalor. Also, I’m struck with just how much Bagu is a rock star here. People keep coming up and being amazed at seeing him again after not being here for 15 years (I’m vague on this number but I know it has been a long time!).
As dusk turns to full darkness we walk the dirt streets back to the Hotel, still teeming with people walking here and there, passing shanties filled with people buying various items such as cds, SIM cards, alcohol, photocopies, food and whatever else you might want to buy. At the hotel, I find the room consists of a bed with a mosquito net, a TV! that gets 2 stations when the electricity is on, and running water. The toilet works great and the shower is in the opposite corner with a drain but no enclosure.
Just before turning in we had a dinner of beef skewers and pomme frites–you need to love potatoes if you live in this part of the world. I think I ate them at every single meal.
As I doze off (or try to in spite of getting used to the net over me, the fighting dogs in the alley below, and later a person who must have screamed for at least 1 hour) I am reminded that I am more blessed than I deserve. I recognize that some of my stress these next 11 days will be the result of the strangeness of my surroundings, my lack of personal comfort, and my missing my family. However, I also recognize that I will be able to rectify these stresses by leaving and that those I will interact with do not have the luxury to leave the difficulties behind. We Americans view suffering as something to get through and not something to live with in this life.
Glad to have the trip to see the trauma recovery efforts and needs in the DRC and Rwanda. Glad to return home. It has been a whirlwind of experiences and emotions. I know many of you were in prayer for our trip so over the next 2 weeks I plan to post daily logs of our trauma recovery trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. I have some pictures and video that I hope to post but am still trying to figure out how to make some edits to the video clips I took each day.
Let me start by making a couple of observations about the things that were most noticeable–both in going to a new culture and in returning home. These are random…
- Chaos is the name of the game in the DRC. Nothing works well. Not customs, not roads, not electricity, not UN.
- Smooth roads in the DRC are few and far between. In Goma, they are TERRIBLE. Looks like they just carved them out of lava. What a wonderful place to live if you make your living replacing axles and struts.
- Electricity is spotty, internet slow…but most in Goma have 2 cell phones each. Why? Because they have two cell providers and at any time, one may be down
- The UN soldiers aren’t well liked in the DRC. Seen as either neutral (just observing not helping) or negative (participating in the raping of the Congo). Being a UN soldier may be one of the most mindnumbing job there is. Stand around. Do nothing for most of the time.
- Everybody walks everywhere
- Rwanda is developing by leaps and bounds. Not sure if all of it is good. On the one hand, massive construction in Kigali. Roads from Goma to the center of the country a delight. On the other hand, there are large sections that used to be slums in Kigali that are now green space/farming/nice properties. Where did those people go?
- Stereotyping: Congolese seem more open about their feelings than Rwandans.
- We are so blessed in this country. We can count on our infrastructure. We do not have to pay bribes. If we work, we probably will get paid.
- Despite their poverty, African worship is far more joyful and therapeutic (in a good way) than what we call worship in this country.
- I probably wouldn’t invite guests to my house if it were a 2 room board shack with no running water or toilet. Not the case for some in the DRC and Rwanda.
- Trauma is everywhere in Africa. Few resources to deal with it there, including the church
Day One: October 10-11; travel to Entebbe, Uganda
6 pm. Lift off on time from Philadelphia International Airport. Diane and I fly overnight to Belgium. It is always a challenge for me to get sleep on a plane so I got a prescription for Ambien to help. Learned that half a pill doesn’t much work for me. The total trip from Philadelphia to Uganda takes 18 hours of flight time. Add in the waits in Philadelphia, Brussels, and Kigali and you have 24 hours of travel, a long and painful trip. Yet, each leg went well and went off as planned. Two minor interesting experiences
- Recognized a stewardess on the first leg who plied me with a few freebies to make the trip much more pleasant
- Pretty sure I sat next to French journalist, Jean Hatzfeld, author of Machete Season and the Antelope Strategy on the trip to Kigali. Not sure since his English isn’t that good but he was editing proofs of a new book he said was about him and his role after the genocide. Wished I had determined for sure who he was and told him how I found his books so helpful.
Arrived in Entebbe at 9:45 pm, October 11. After that many hours, you feel rather fuzzy brained. But, we were met by someone from the Ugandan Bible Society who had us wait at the airport with him until Bagudekia Alobeyo, our American Bible Society friend, arrived on his flight some 45 minutes later. Once Bagu (our Congolese pastor/guide and friend) arrived we set off to a nearby hotel, the Imperial Beach Resort Hotel right on Lake Victoria. This turns out to be our best accommodations of the trip. First impressions right out of the airport. The lovely smell of charcoal cooking fires are quite prominent.
Off to sleep in hopes of good rest to be ready for our quick flight into the DRC tomorrow!