As I mentioned in my previous post the stories I witnessed surrounding the complexities the LRA have brought to DRC will be posted in different parts. This is partly because there is so much to tell that for the amount of time it takes me to upload the photos here in Goma I would suffer several cuts in the internet, and I don’t have the patience for that.
So with the previous post’s reality of the situation a rather distressing slap in the face, and with the next post quite possibly a rant on the ludicrousness of the situation this is a rather more positive one.
Conciliation Resources recognises the abilities of the local organisations – Women’s Organisations, Civil Societies and organisations run by local religious leaders (for example the CDJP – Commission of the Diocese for Justice and Peace).
Above: Two women who run the “Association Protection par L’Enfants” – educating orphans, IDPs, les vunérables, former child soldiers and victims of sexual violence. Below: the store room for all their books and resources. It’s not much.
Their activities are locally born and run, and often with little or no budget, yet being Congolese they understand the lives of the individuals they are dealing with far better than say a great deal of the NGOs and international organisations that come and set up shop in these ‘areas of great need’. They are set up in almost every case (in every case in my – albeit short – experience) by a desire to help their fellow countrymen with an advocacy for better change and to help those that have suffered in whatever way.
Above: Emmanuel Laku, President of the Civil Society in Doruma.
In the case of those in the district of Haut-Uele, Orientale Province almost everything is directly or indirectly related to the presence of the LRA (though not everything would be totally absent without their presence).
So I spent a great deal of my time with the heads of the various women’s organisations and civil societies, and general leaders of the community, photographing their various activities and advocacy in their areas.
Above: Jeanne Lipombo is a 42 year-old widow with six children. She escaped the LRA with her life on the 17th of September 2008. Her husband, the chief of the village was not so lucky. He was killed, and two of their children were kidnapped. One is assumed to be with the LRA still.
She has been living in a few hundred kilometres away in Dungu with her remaining children, and those of her husband’s other wives ever since (polygamy is not unusual in many parts of the DRC). She is now the main provider for the 10 or so children, though some of the older ones are starting to sell in the streets to get a little extra money.
Above: It was Sister Angelique and her organisation “Dynamique Femmes Pour La Paix” that helped her. As well as training her to bake bread for the organisation (for which she is then paid, and the bread sold by others) they got her a job as a maid in the local parish, where her daily duties include washing, ironing, cooking etc.
Below: Lipombo’s children and husband’s children sleep together in one room. It has made a real difference to her life, and those of the children and young men and women she is responsible for.
Above and below: Sister Angelique’s organisation has created a whole host of activities, training and skills programmes to get IDPs and affected persons (predominantly women and youth) to help themselves… even if it’s just enough money to provide food and education for themselves and their families. It includes farming, sewing, and education in mathematics for business.
These are of course small efforts – and it’s been pointed out to me before, (certainly with helping former child soldiers) that training them in simple practical skills like brick making and sewing is never going to help them become a professor or an engineer if that’s what they’d like. But the reality of the situation in DRC and much of Africa is that these people have been born into societies that simply cannot support such dreams. There are naturally exceptions as there are in every walk of life, but at least these little steps in the right direction are being instigated by those who have been brought up in this world, and have a more intimate, if not fuller understanding of what’s needed.
Above: This man, the Reverend Mboligihe Ndalu is the director for Radio Artike, a local radio station with its prime message being of unity and peace. Quite incredibly it’s not been funded with any outside help whatsoever. In each village there is a society set up that collects money or food, or whatever people can afford to donate to keep the radio running. Naturally these are voluntarily, unlike many of the other ‘donations’ seen in the DRC, but people appreciate the station so much that they realise they must contribute in order to keep it running.
It is efforts like these that show that cooperation and collaboration to build an aspect of society is not only possible, but happening right now. It is the glimmer of hope that needs to be seen in a country that has been ‘shrouded in darkness’.
It is local enterprises (I suppose you could call them) like this radio that Conciliation Resources are looking to help, providing funding as well as direction for sensitizing the population to how they should welcome back former LRA members. The vast majority were, of course, forced into this army, and though many of them killed their own kind it was not through their own choice.
The Civil Societies and religious organisations help greatly in providing what support they can to combat these problems, improving lives for affected citizens (all of them to some extent) and IDPs and coordinating peacebuilding efforts.
Above: Aruna, head of the Civil Society in Dungu has a hand in most local peacebuilding activities. Obviously this is a broad term but I witnessed him interviewing Esperance, a young girl who had been with the LRA for over two years, and forced to marry a commander. Below: Esperance and her family watch the video recording I made of Aruna interviewing her.
Below: Abbe Jean-Claude, of the CDJP in Dungu.
Above: Father Ernest leads a local coordination meeting.
Meanwhile there is still much to be done – these organisations are hugely limited by resources and effectively trained staff. With a controlled outside input their effectiveness could really be felt.
Finally I’ll leave you with one of the last images I took during my three weeks. In Dungu I was put up by the Catholic Priests and in Doruma by the Nuns at the Convent. It seems in almost every remote and dangerous outpost in DRC that these peoples are pillars in the community, and usually the only places with accommodation reasonable and safe enough for temporary visitors like myself to stay at. Here is one of the nuns cooking in the kitchen. Naturally there’s no electricity.