We started the day by driving over lava roads to the Alarm headquarters where we were reintroduced to Janvaire, the director, Kevi, the ass’t director who speaks very good English and is a former journalism professor in Uganda but before that was a Congolese refugee in an IDP camp in Uganda. also we met Didi, Esperanze, Mariejean, and Theophil - who are heads of various ALARM departments- Peace and Justice, Leadership, Youth, Women, Reconciliation. I don’t remember who is head of what except Theophil is head of Youth. After introductions we heard 2 songs from the ALARM Choir. I hope to upload a recording of them. They are 7 and each has a story of family members killed, lost, or injured. They are in their late teens and twenties. Steve wants to bring them to the US and I agree that their singing and stories would probably do more to increase awareness and funding for ALARM than anything we could say or do. There are over 400 tribes in Congo and these folks represent a different tribe. Their first song was about peace and their second about forgiveness.
Then we went next door to the BRENDA dress making school. There were about 12-15 women in the class being taught by Pennina, Didi’s sister, who appeared normal size until we realized she was standing on a bench to teach the class. She can’t be more than 4’5” tall but she had a wonderful glow. They have 3 sewing machines to share. Steve said that if they all studied hard and attended faithfully at the end of class Saddleback would buy each of them a sewing machine. They cheered! $150 x 15-20 to change lives and allow them to be self sufficient.
Then we headed to a larger IDP camp, probably 3 miles outside Goma. Goma is dusty and crowded. There are thousands of small cc Korean motorcycles up and down the main street, which seems to stretch for miles. On either side are merchants with vegetables, shoes, lumber, purses, petrol ,and who knows what else for sale. We were just passed by a motorcycle with the passenger carrying a live rabbit in one hand. The roads are rougher then Kenya’s if that is possible. This was apparently a beautiful place on Kiva Lake before the war and before the earthquake and volcanic eruption in 2003. Now it is the poorest of the poor. It makes a Mexican border town look like Highland Park. And then things got worse. We took a teeth chattering lava and dirt “road” to the IDP camp run by the Norwegian Relief Council. The camp director was in a meeting with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Relief) and so we sat amongst the 25,000 people in this camp for 2 hours waiting. Most of them have been here for over 2 years because of the rebel violence. Many have lost husbands, wives, parents, or children to this violence. These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing unless it is provided for them. They are desperate and we could not walk through the camp without someone taping us or standing in front of us with hand out or rubbing their stomach. We met Francisco, whom I nicknamed Frank. He was one of the few who spoke a little English. He is from the Rutshuru district, about 60 km from Goma, and has been in the camp 17 months. He has a baby girl one year old born in the camp. The women may go to the hospital to deliver but are almost immediately discharged back to the camp. Frank spoke passable English and said he was a Jehovah’s Witness. We took him aside and gave him one of the Gideon Bibles that Tom Manchester from NPPC gave us to distribute. As the Gideon’s request we inscribed it from Cherry and me. He said he had to go to his “house” briefly but we never saw him again. You will see from the pictures the mass of humanity, filth, crowding, and desperation in the faces of the people. And yet there is a dignity about them that is appealing. We took a walk through the camp. There are showers and toilets set up by the UN and water pumped by Oxfam. We took several pictures of exterior and interior of houses. Cherry gave a small girl in a faded red top sitting on the ground a small kaleidoscope. Her name was Alisa.
We were about to leave when the camp director gave the word that we could distribute the supplies we had brought. We had 400 tops and bottoms with 2 pr of panties for the girls, 400 wraps for the widows, and 400 shirts and trousers for the sick men. ALARM did not do a very good planning job and it quickly turned to chaos and it times we were surrounded by hundreds of desperate people many whom did not have pink or blue slips that qualified them to receive the package. Girls, boys, young men and women were running at us and trying to break through to the front of the line. They were literally thrown out of the line. The haves and have nots converged - with us in the middle. It was frightening especially when people with tickets had all been given their clothing and the residents pressed in on us. One little girl, screaming and crying, lay down in front of us and refused to move until forcibly removed by the police who did little to control the crowd. We beat a retreat to the van and gave a few packages of clothing on the fly but due to the sheer number we left more unhappy people than happy ones. The dirt and desperation are hard to see and smell. Steve thinks that since Laurent Nakunda, the rebel leader, who was trained in the US and a former ally of Rwandan President Kibale, has been arrested and his no.2 man has joined the Congolese army that the rebels are less of a threat and soon people may be able to go home but when your family members have been killed or raped and your land taken it is not an easy sell. As we entered Goma yesterday 2 truckloads of Rwandans who had fled to Congo in 1994 were being forcibly repatriated and that is how it is generally done - forcibly.