Monthly Archives: July 2012

Updates from the North…

I have just spent the past four days traveling to the north to finally visit our house in Alimbongo and wish you could have all been with me. When I arrived at the house, women and staff came out with a drum and began singing and dancing.  They then presented me a letter of gratitude for the house, along with some needs, then the children’s  club sang and gave me flowers from their garden. Was amazing to be there!

Just a few words from the women:

“I never knew how to read or write, but thanks to Wamama Simameni, I now know how to read and write.”

“You have written Wamama Simameni on the door, and I knew this was a place where we would have to get up off the ground and stand tall!”

And a photograph of all of the women who escorted me down the hill, following me in procession, singing, “we will carry you on your way. we will accompany you.”

Thanks to all of you for supporting me and the women of the Congo today.

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The rain continues to pour down…

The rain continues to pour down.  Amid claps of thunder and bright flashes of lightening, the rains pours down as no where else in the world, and all I can think of are the tens of thousands of internally displaced here in the congo.  Even if they have shelter, it’s likely to leak in this onslaught. Women, children and men with nothing but the clothes on their backs, braving the elements.

The fighting grew closer to Goma today. I was able to visit the safe house in Kibumba, just 20km north of Goma city center. Yet when we called to let the supervisor know, she said the M23 had come to the town.  They were fighting with the FARDC and the whole village was fleeing. We could hear gunfire in the background.  UN gunships began circling overhead, heading to the front lines.

The trip has been intense and fruitful so far.  Immediately upon arrival in Goma, I was able to jump in a HEAL Africa vehicle heading north from Goma to Kiwanja and Rutshuru, neighboring towns and key positions for the rebels controlling transit and supplies to Goma and the north. Rebel activity had decreased in the area so I took the chance and was able to visit the houses of Kiwanja, Kisharo and Nyamilima. Each of the houses was alive with activity, women threshing recently harvested soy beans and working on sewing, embroidery and basket-weaving projects. Rape cases have grown with military activity, and the staff are no longer paid (two at each house receive $100/month as a token), but continue to work.

Travel upon the road north from Goma is restricted to daylight hours between 8am-3pm so we spent two nights in Kiwanja. We left early Sunday morning for Goma, a driver, myself and two sick women we were bringing to the hospital. Despite our caution, about half way to Goma, we were ambushed by armed rebels. We were forced from the car, beaten with AK47s and thoroughly searched.  They stole most of my possessions which luckily were few, my phones, a camera and some cash – I had left
everything else in Goma just in case…. I watched as they unloaded an entire mini-bus of 20 people, forcing them to sit on the ground, kicking and butting them with the AKs. Luckily, no one was badly hurt, we were all released and allowed to continue our route.  Welcome to life in the Congo.

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The war in Congo never ends..

Its just after 6pm here and we’re on our way back from the refugee camp. So close to the equator, the Great Lakes Region year round has approx 12hrs of light and its already almost dark.

The camp was sobering – as refugee camps tend to be. Over 10,000 refugees from the latest fighting and approx 9,000 waiting to be transferred from the transit center on the border. Most fled as the fighting neared or had just entered their villages. The Congolese are sadly accustomed to war, and when they hear bullets they run. In the chaos, however, families are divided and women grab the children at home, having to leave husbands, other children, belongings, and animals behind. They literally have with nothing but the clothes on their backs and have no idea when they will go home or see their families again.

In the camps, they receive food (corn, beans, salt and oil) from WFP, a tent, cooking pot, spoon, blanket, soap and plastic bucket from the UNHCR, some firewood and very basic medical services. The kids play with plastic bags bunched together to form a ball or a car fashioned from empty plastic bottles.

While there, I watched new busloads arrive 260 in total, 78 families. Other refugees lined up, along each side of the road, everyone searching for missing family members or friends. Some embraced and greeted, other new arrivals continued walking searching for familiar faces.

And yet they smile. They laugh. They joke and greet you with openess and curiosity, they start small businesses (selling vegetables, telephone SIM cards, maize beer), help manage the camp, construct offices for the NGOs, etc. Their undying spirit and determination is humbling and inspiring. Facing war time and time again, losing all and rebuilding over and over, it is truly awesome. I met a man of 70 years old with his wife, “The war in Congo never ends..” He’s been living with this since 1959.

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Congo Emergency Appeal

Recent fighting and budget cuts in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, have left many rape victims without access to life-saving medical care. Please join our emergency fundraising campaign by making a gift of $50 or more.

Help us give as much aid as we can to these women by asking everyone in your community to show their support. Our goal is to raise $7,500 to provide invaluable post-exposure medical care to recent victims of sexual violence in Goma.

Please make a special gift at this crucial time


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