Don’t give up hope for Congo. Amani hasn’t. In an e-mail last week, he wrote, “You are giving me HOPE! Thanks for your compassion and love to the people of MY country and myself. No matter what’s happening here right now, if I were to be born again and if that was to happen during this period of time, and should someone ask me to chose a citizenship, Congo would be my choice!”
Who is this man, whose name means “peace,” whom, after losing both parents to the conflict in Congo, started his own non-profit (ABFEK, supported by Action Kivu) to educate and empower the women and children of his country? This e-mail of hope came the day after Amani returned home from visiting the IDP camps in North Kivu, where he witnessed families on the run from the recent and on-going upswing in violence due to the M23 mutiny. Gathering reports for The Enough Project and Falling Whistles, Amani was heartbroken to see so many people without homes, access to water or shelter. According to a report by Aljazeera, an estimated 280,000 Congolese have been displaced as they flee the violence in villages surrounding North Kivu, violence that threatens stability and safety across the region.
When we visited eastern Congo in January of 2012, Cate and I (Rebecca) sat down to interview Amani at the Swedish Mission, our Bukavu home away from home. Sitting in the shade of a tree, surrounded by flowers, with birds chirping in the garden, Amani hung up his ever-ringing cell phone. Speaking to a friend who had lost family members in a recent attack on Shabunda, a territory in South Kivu, Amani tells us that reports are mixed, but anywhere from 39 to 79 civilians were killed by militia members there. Amani has direct information from his friend about soldiers using knives to cut open the stomach of a pregnant woman. Despite having heard horrific stories like these many times over, Amani is stunned, and speechless, for a moment.
“People who haven’t experienced life here, don’t know what life here looks like,” he says. “So, in a situation like this, I think, ‘Okay, let’s go where I can. Since I can’t go to Shabunda, I have no helicopter to go there, I have no car, let me do what I can, where I am.’ And if everyone can decide [that] and do what they can, where they are? (He pauses.) You have also your part,” he tells us. Talk to people, about what has happened here.”
“Congo is a tunnel of darkness, and we need people to light, light, light,” Amani’s fingers illustrate sun-bursts, “until it filled with light. Everyone needs to do something, to raise this country up. It is down. Everyone needs to start where he is,” he says. He tells us of his goals for his work with ABFEK/Action Kivu. “At the community level, we want to engage more people by raising their awareness, and making sure each and every one stands up and says, ‘Hey guys! I’m doing my part! No more domestic violence in my household.’ To that person, we would say, ‘Hey, congratulations!’ The local leaders, soldiers, military commanders, police, everyone, they have no money, but we want them to contribute. Fight HIV where they are. Fight discrimination where they are. Fight domestic violence where they are. And talk about peace, everywhere they are.”
Amani continues to go where he can, to encourage his community to contribute, to fight HIV, discrimination and domestic violence, to talk about peace, everywhere. His projects of educating children, teaching women marketable skills and literacy programs, animal husbandry, shared farming, microloans and more, have direct, visible effects. We witnessed it in Mumosho, when we heard the women sharing their stories, asking for forums to explore their rights further.
Amani, too, has noticed a marked change. “These women today are very eager to learn to make an income. Which is the total opposite of what was happening two to three years ago, and what is still happening with many women who are not part of our program, in Mumosho. There is a big change between women who are not part of the project, and women who are part of the project. Today some of the women are making income through the microloan project, through the sewing program, with the sewing kits, they are making an income. Women have been empowered. They are proud, they are proud of themselves.”
|Amani leads a Trauma Training session for women in Mumosho. Photo by Cate Haight.|
“At the beginning, I was still very young,” Amani told us. “I was scared about what was happening here. I was losing hope. But when I started getting in touch with different people from the U.S. and Europe, talking to people, I felt that there are people who are for peace here,” Amani gestures to his surroundings. “And seeing that there are people who are for peace here, it gives me hope. It aroused a kind of hope inside, that people like you, people like the Enough Project, people like Jewish World Watch, Falling Whistles, all those people, I feel I have some people I can lean on, and fight for peace, and today, I am 100% sure of that. Peace, sustainable peace, will come, one day. And since I haven’t lost hope, I will keep on struggling, fighting. I know other people at the civil society level, there are people who are dreaming peace to be restored, and with support from outside, with support from people at the grassroots level, of course, involving and making much noise to our local leaders, the government, we are hoping that the day is coming. And it has to come.”
|Amani teaches kids in Mumosho how to play frisbee.|
|Amani and the ladies of the Mumosho Sewing Center, graduating class of June, 2012.|
“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” ~ Rebecca Solnit