Yesterday I felt completely engulfed by sadness. I wrote a blog entry that I will not post with you now, crushed by what I had seen and heard during a long day visiting clinics with International Medical Corps.
I had hoped that when I came here, I would be able to focus on the stories of survivors, the stories of strength and resolve. But I realize that I have fallen prey to reducing the people of Congo to their victimhood. I have given in to the faces of the starving children, the raped and burned women. I think anyone would have.
It is true that Congo is a place of brutality and atrocity. But it is not the only truth.
I have seen pain — in the eyes of hundreds of malnourished children, their bellies swollen and their hair turning orange, their mothers desperately wanting to return home and make a life for themselves and their babies away from the clamor of the IDP camp. But I have also seen healing, the kindness and warmth of Mama Gisele, the head nurse at the IDP camp’s clinic, who with tenderness and concern in her eyes shows us where children are fed, where women and girls are counseled. She tells us about doing home visits for girls that have been victims of sexual violence, trying to get to them within 72 hours so that pregnancy and HIV infection can be prevented. She and her team of nurses — all Congolese, mostly female — counsel families to ease their fears and educate them not to reject their daughters, wives and sisters that have already been violated once, and do not need more violation.
I have seen destruction – of a young teenage girl who had been recently raped, lying alone in her bed at one of the clinics we visited. But I have also seen incredible strength and recovery — of mothers collecting as associations, helping each other pay for prenatal and maternity care. Of a little girl (a rape survivor herself) who told our friend Christine, when she had lost all faith in her work caring for victims of sexual violence, that she needed to remember that even when it was cloudy, there were always stars in the night sky — so too with God.
I have seen atrocities that have made me doubt there could possibly be a higher power — women broken and destroyed, their communities destroyed with them, their children displaced, growing up without a home, raised in exile and resentment. But I have also seen amazing faith — in the beautiful children in bright yellow “Love Not War” t-shirts, singing praise with arms outstretched to God. In the women and men who have been preyed upon by armed groups time and time again, that nevertheless thank God and heaven for the blessings that they do have, the food around their table and the community around their hearts. In the grace that these same men and women show us, we offer them our prayers, from our hearts to their community.
The people of Congo are not solely victims — you and I have to break out of this routine, of pain and destruction and despair. They are survivors. The people of Congo are its greatest resource. They are not waiting for us to speak for them — they need us to speak with them, in a strong, unified, amplified voice.