Monday, July 18, 2011

We're Leaving Our Hearts in the Congo

It's our last night in Africa... We're in Kigali, Rwanda where it all began. There is so much to say, but as we keep saying so much we still need to process. We spent much of today touring the genocide memorial, mass graves and museum here in Kigali.  It was a heavy, heavy day, but an important way to end our journey... understanding where it all began for the Congo. The genocide here is the starting point for the conflict in the Kivus and an important piece to unraveling what's happening there now. It was unbelievable to read the stories and see the images we saw today. The mass grave at the museum site alone holds the remains of upwards of 250,000 men, women and children. We hope seeing it here where it happened means we won't be able to forget.  We also hope the world never forgets. But if history is any indication, it probably will.

We start 2 days of travel in the morning before making it back home to our respective destinations.  The trip was more amazing than we could have hoped. We met so many courageous, wonderful people who shared their thoughts with us, welcomed us into their homes and offices and hearts...allowed us to film them and in the end changed our lives forever. Our moments ranged from holding the hands of survivors of acts more brutal than is even comprehensible- to facilitating a panel discussion with brilliant young leaders who have visions of a Congo transformed from humanitarian graveyard into an oasis of peace and tourism- to diving into beautiful lake Kivu at sunset- to sharing laughs with new friends over wine and Primus (a Congolese beer). It was the journey of a lifetime and we can't wait to see where the next phase of the journey will lead. Jesse shot the most spectacular moments... Moments of powerful human emotion, controversial debates and moments of sheer natural beauty. We know the film is going to be amazing. We'll return in January to continue research and filming for the documentary.  For us, January can't come soon enough... We left our hearts in Bukavu and Goma.

As we soak in our final moments here we want to leave you with a little excerpt from a reflection we wrote (but, couldn't upload) after two emotional days in Goma.  We will have much more to add to this blog as the weeks and months progress, but for now we (sparing you intense details) leave you with these words because we feel the stories are important to tell... And important to hear...

We spent the first half of one day talking to a former child soldier
and hearing the his horrific stories. He has horrible nightmares after every time that he shares his story. After spending an afternoon with him as he talked about his childhood, we completely understand why. But, he is an extraordinary kid with a powerful message.
Later that same day we visited a hospital that works with women who have been raped. We met five women and some them shared their stories. Three of the women had adorable babies born of rape and one cried as she told us what happened to her. It was all very overwhelming... then we met a little 5 year old girl. She had the saddest little eyes you have ever seen and as the head nurse shared her story with us we were devastated.  It's not fair and it broke our hearts. Unfortunately, stories like these are more common than they should be. The statistic that a woman is raped in the Congo every minute is not an exaggeration. It's a gruesome reality of the state of this country.

The next day, however, was a much better day. The first day was
depressing because there was such an air of sadness with most of the
women we spent time with. They said they were hopeful about the future,
but they had nowhere to go after their stay in the hospital. The second day
was filled with more joy. We met with two women, a 16 year old
and a 50 year old. The 50 year old had been so brutally attacked that
her hip had been broken. Although she would be on crutches for
life (she spent over year in agony before she went to get help after
she escaped her tormentors) she was all smiles. The young 16 year old
was also full of hope. She told us how she wants to be a minister
(politician not religious) when she is older so she can help other
women who have gone through what she has experienced. She was shy and
spoke very quietly, but she too shared laughter with us and smiled.
They truly made us proud to be women!

The power of laughter truly hit us as we were sitting there with these
women, who by the worlds standards had nothing to smile and laugh
about. Janny was NOT kidding when she said the women of the Congo are made of steel. What a difference a day makes. There was such a
stark contrast between the meeting with the women on the first day and
the meeting with the women the next day. There are only two
differences between the organizations: funding and
spiritual healing. The first hospital (although they are doing great
work) does not get even close to the same amount of funding as the
second. You could see how funding can affect an organization in
the differences between the two facilities. The women we met at first
were physically and mentally healthy but their spirits were still
broken. The other two women were 'whole';they were excited about
their future because they knew they would be provided for.

When we came back from those interviews our former child soldier
friend greeted us at the front door. He was all smiles as we chatted
with him about how his day had gone. As he laughed and smiled we were
in awe. The Congolese are amazingly resilient people. They not only
survive, no matter what has happened to them, but they truly know how
to pick up the pieces and continue to enjoy life again! That is what
we came here to find: life, wholeness, and above all hope.


  1. Glad you two are ok and will see both of you when you guys get back home

  2. I am reading your stories with tears. Within my one year here in South Kivu, I have experienced all too well the sad stories and the hopeful smile- smiles from women and children who have experienced heart wrenching doses of the evil that mankind is able to inflict on fellow mankind.It is the strength of these victims and their smiles that strongly say "there is hope". It is truly the ability of these victims to smile that contributes that strenghten some of you who are interested in the problems here in the Kivus, don't you think?. I have matured a lot from serving here, as for putting up with a little discomfort.....I say bring it on, what are my little problems compared to any thing I have heard and seen here in the Congo.
    I say to you guys keep hope alive, you guys signed on to a good fight.
    Janny Jinor

  3. Amazing to read about your travels! Missing you guys! You three are such an inspiration- thank your for spreading the word on what is going on here in Eastern Congo.
    Cant wait for part 2 in Kinshasa:)
    With love from Goma,

  4. this is truly wonderful. looking forward to reading more excerpts as you process your trip. as for the film, will we be able to access it from your university website?

  5. Janny, Janny- We love you and miss you! (and finally responded to your e-mail!)

    Pamela and Dave! Thank you so much for your touching words. You guys were certainly such a wonderful addition to our trip. You blessed us with insight and laughter and we can't wait to visit you in Kinshasa in a few months for round 2... we're excited to see what unfolds for you guys between now and then. We know you will have amazing things to share. [Also, find us on facebook so we can keep in touch and tag and share pictures. We have some great ones of all of us! (FB user names: Elizabeth Cantrell & Mara Tshibaka & Jesse Doland)]

    Eka, we hope the film will be accessible in several ways. We will make sure it's out there and available for everyone to see. Thanks for the words!

    And Matt, we will get together when we're all back in NYC!