How can we move forward if there is no peace?
Emmanuel, Erin, Zione and I were all eager to get closer to the beautiful lake that we can only see in the distance. After the day’s work we set off down the hill. I am planning to fall on my backside because the steep, unpaved streets are filled with ruts and dips and rocks. As usual, kids take notice and are excited to see us. As we descend we see so many interesting houses under construction.
We see houses with scaffolding made of thin trees. The three story houses set on hills often have these treacherous stairways that weave and wind. We see rooftop gardens with cabbage. In the distance we see an impressive house on a beautiful green compound that juts out into to the lake. Once owned by Mobutu Sese Seko, it is now inhabited by the Initiative for Peace Building.
Zione takes this photo and we all double over laughing. With Erin and I in the background and Emmanuel in the foreground, Erin and I look like small children and Emmanuel like a tall statue!
We continue on…
As we descend further we see the UNHCR repatriation camp.
This a refugee camp filled with Rwandans in transit from the DRC back to Rwanda. They fled from Rwanda during the war. They tire of living in the forests and are returning to Rwanda as they are able to.
“Living conditions in the forest are very difficult. My life was miserable, being hunted like an animal. But I have a new life behind those hills and my children need to go back to school”, said Marie, pointing towards Rwanda. Marie’s journey to Bukavu was a long one. She came from Mangere, in the North Kivu region of Masisi, where she and her children had been living in the forest.
As we approach the gate, a truck full of people arrive. We can hear the sounds of crowds, talking and commotion in these long makeshift buildings. We are told they are filled with women and children. (A few nights later I hear the sounds of men yelling and screaming for hours into the night. Terrible screams. Disturbing, haunting screams. It sounds like a men going mad or men in prison yelling through the night. At the time, I wonder about how these women and children sleep with this noise. Later I learn this yelling is common. You can imagine the limited assistance for people with mental health problems as well as the prevalence of PTSD given the years of war.)
As we walk, Erin strikes up a conversation with a Congolese man walking with his young daughter. She tells him we are walking to get a better view of the lake. He invites us to follow him as he lives right on the lake. We join him and his young daughter, who drops some candy as she walks. Zione picks up the candy and gives it to her. The little girl smiles.
At his house, we marvel at the beautiful lake. It is a lovely view. He asks us, as we do our work here in the DRC, as we return to our countries….
Please advocate for us. We need peace. We need peace. We don’t really need aid. We need peace.
He tells us that women are respected here in the DRC. The woman is revered as she gives life. I tell him that is not easy to do and he agrees. So he says,
Why do we have to hear about women always being raped, children being killed, people being abducted?
He tells us the security situation is the problem in the DRC.
We can’t develop without peace. People are hard-working. There is a strong work ethic here. People are entrepreneurial. But how can we move forward if there is no peace?