CONGO TRIP - February 2010
I was much more nervous about traveling to Eastern Congo this year because, having been before, I knew what to expect. When we arrived in Bukavu, I was surprised to learn that most of the refugee camps had closed and people had reluctantly gone back to their villages. My initial thought when I heard this was that there would be a spike in the gender-based violence and sadly, I wasn't wrong.
When I met with Dr. Denis Mukwege from Panzi Hospital, he told me that he was getting 8 to 9 new rape victims in every day. They simply did not have the staff or the room to accommodate the new round of violence. Additionally, Dr. Mukwege told me that in Bukavu, 239 women had been taken from their homes to be raped and tortured that week alone!
I felt hopeless, helpless, and incredibly angry. It's very difficult as a woman to be in a place where such horror is happening to your fellow sisters and to have to hold your tongue while looking in the eyes of a man who has just raped a woman. But I'm not a hero, nor a martyr, and speaking up wouldn't do anyone any good. My husband, my children, and my work come first, hence venting my anger seemed unimportant and meaningless.
Our first day working in the SOS Orphanage was wonderful and daunting. We had an endless stream of children. 120 children were coming in at 45-minute intervals. To witness a child hold a paint brush for the first time, to see a child laugh without abandon and dance furiously was so incredibly gratifying on every level. These children received t-shirts that had been painted for them by kids in our Please Mr. President workshops in LA and New York City. In turn, these orphans painted butterflies which we brought back to distribute to our Please Mr. President children, and many of those butterflies will decorate tables at our annual fundraiser.
On our second day, we had 600 more children from the amazing Women for Women International. Again we passed out t-shirts made for them by homeless and at-risk children in the States. These children in the workshops in Congo also painted butterflies and the toddlers worked on crafts. The workshops in conjunction with Women for Women included Moms, and you could feel the joy and contentment as they learned to make jewelry. Most of our Moms were rape victims and you could see the perpetual sadness in their eyes when they came into our room. But to see them begin to relax, get creative, and to have fun was magnificent. I felt guilty leaving Bukavu and the women and children that had taken up permanent residence in my heart, but I took solace in knowing that we will go back soon. We will keep going back until there is peace.