Greetings from Bukavu, Congo! We crossed the border into eastern Congo last week, to spend just over two weeks in the presence of Amani and the women and children he serves via ABFEK and Action Kivu. To see firsthand the sewing workshops, to meet the women gaining valuable skills and building community there, to say “Jambo!” (Hello!) to all the children who giggle wildly to see themselves on our cameras’ digital displays. To visit the children sent to school by ABFEK’s education assistance program and observe their classes. To shake many, many hands as we walk through the Peace Market to see the newly built latrine soon to be dedicated to the community there. To visit the goat project and the shared farm, and see the land where Amani envisions a Peace School, where the girls and boys in the surrounding villages can study without worries about tuition fees. Where the curriculum can be flexible to meet their needs, teaching not only maths, science, languages and art, but trauma therapies, animal husbandry and how to grow food to sustain the community. Amani wants a school that will educate and inspire the future leaders of the Congo in human rights.
We already knew that every penny we raised was going directly to the programs Amani has instigated, but being here, seeing it all in action, is inspiring. Amani is the unofficial Mayor of Mumosho, where he was born and raised, and a local celebrity in Bukavu, where he taught secondary school. Driving or walking down roads in either area, we are frequently stopped as people call to him, and he takes time to greet them warmly.
In only a few days of visits along the rutted road to Mumosho, a bone-jarring ride termed a “Congolese massage,” we have met women who are leaders in their community. Excited by the trauma therapy training they’re receiving from Gunilla of The Peaceful Heart Network, the women had the space and opportunity to share the stories of trauma in the community, from domestic violence that is too often the norm, to women’s rights around marriage, land rights, and the birth of a son as heir. Amani listened with a troubled face as the conversation in the local Mashi dialect grew louder and more heated, and when we asked him to translate, and why he looked so upset, he said, “Because I am man, and men are doing such terrible things.”
The women’s stories are not falling on deaf or uncaring ears. Amani is a man of action, and before returning the class to a semblance of order to complete the trauma therapy training, he began brainstorming ideas for group meetings to discuss violence against women and women’s rights, to provide a forum for discussion of women amongst women, men with men, and then bringing them together with the local leaders to educate men about equal rights. It might not change their behavior immediately, he admitted, but they will know they are doing wrong, and that others will be watching.
Everywhere we go we see faces of people, some traumatized and withdrawn, some open and smiling. The stories of atrocity and trauma are as numerous and varied as the handshakes we receive, but so are the stories of healing and hope. In her research for the book The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brene Brown discovered that “hope is not an emotion, it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process.” She quotes the research of C.R. Snyder, who defines hope as a trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency. “Hope happens when
Amani is the face of hope in Congo. In over a year of partnering with him, and in the week we’ve spent in his constant peaceful presence, we have witnessed him set realistic goals, find the necessary resources, move with grace and flexibility through the obstacles he faces from both people and the physical terrain. He not only believes in himself, he believes in the power of the people of the Congo, particularly women and girls.
More times than we can count, he has expressed overwhelming gratitude for you, the people who support Action Kivu and make possible all that is changing the lives of these women and children. We can’t wait to share more stories, photos, and videos with you when we return to the U.S. and consistent power and internet connectivity.
“The human face is an artistic achievement. On such a small surface an incredible variety and intensity of presence can be expressed. This breadth of presence overflows the limitation of the physical form. No two faces are exactly the same. There is always a special variation of presence in each one. … In a certain sense, the face is the icon of the body, the place where the inner world of the person becomes manifest. … The face always reveals the soul; it is where the divinity of the inner life finds an echo and image. When you behold someone’s face, you are gazing deeply into that person’s life.”
~ John O’Donohue, Anam Cara – A Celtic Book of Wisdom (pp 38,39)