Jewish World Watch is actively working to develop a partnership with BVES, the organization described below. If you are interested in supporting JWW and BVES's work in eastern Congo, please contact Naama Haviv at Naama@jww.org or 818-501-1836.
It's always the children that break me down. I can listen to women tell stories of unspeakable atrocities -- incomprehensible brutalization, devastating rapes, terrible sadness and loss. And while my heart breaks and my anger rages, I can stay calm -- perhaps comforted in a small way by the fact that we are there to find ways to provide some relief, some hope. But when I see the babies, the toddlers, the little ones devastated and orphaned by war, I can no longer contain the tears.
On my first trip to Congo, we visited a refugee camp and found ourselves surrounded by mothers and babies, babies with bloated bellies, flies on their faces. It was like those World Vision ads I had seen on TV. There in the camp, those ads were coming to life before my eyes. These were children with no food, no toys, no school. I felt helpless and hopeless. I cried all the way back in the van. I thought nothing could be worse. But today I saw something worse -- over 100 babies orphaned by the war, living in cramped, desolate surroundings. At least the children in the camp had their mothers to comfort them and hold them. These children have been robbed of even that.
Today, we visited BVES (Bureau Pour le Volontariat au Service de L'Enfance et de la Sante) an amazing program, created by Dr. Murhabazi Namegabe, to save and rehabilitate boys who were taken by the militias and forced to become child soldiers and girls who had also been captured by the militias and forced to become sex slaves. We learned about this program last time we were here and were very impressed and moved by the amazing work Dr. Namegabe does almost single handedly to rehabilitate these youth and either reconnect them with their families or find foster homes for them. We did not know then about this third population of children, however. BVES houses close to 100 orphans -- babies whose parents were killed or who were somehow separated from them as they fled the militias. In this case, the militias give the children to Dr. Namegabe -- children found wandering alone or in pairs after the devastation has abated. A two or four year old is not of much use to a rebel group.
We walk on to the property to a sea of toddlers and very young children. We were not expecting this. We had come to meet the young girls who were being rehabilitated. No one had told us about all the little children that Dr. Namegabe has rescued and for whom he is providing care. In this facility of 250 youth, most were small children.
They greet us with genuine warmth and excitement. Visitors do not come here often. We play with them in between listening to Dr. Namegabe tell us about the program. The smallest things entertain them. There are no toys here, no plastic games, no stuffed animals, no hand-held computer games. We entertain them by taking their pictures and showing the pictures to them. Two of the little boys want to try on my sunglasses. They giggle when they see how they look in them. They smile and laugh. Our presence is the entertainment. When we are about to leave, we ask to have a picture taken with us and the children. Two of the littlest boys scamper over and sit on my lap. When the picture taking is over, they do not want to get up, and I don't want to let go. I doubt that there are very many hugs given here.
BVES is an incredible program and Dr. Namegabe does the best he can with unbelievably limited funding. These children are the lucky ones because someone found them and is caring for them. But in the end I could not help but despair for these children. Who will adopt them/ take them in? I know how hard it is to find adoptive parents for children in the U.S. I imagine it is almost impossible here in Congo. They cannot stay at BVES forever in this tiny, dark, cramped space with several children sleeping together.
Dr. Namegabe has a dream of finding land outside Bukavu and building a place where the children can live and play safely. If anyone can make this happen, I am certain he can. I hope we will be able to help. For now, I must find some small comfort in the fact that they are safe from the militias and safe from the streets. But as a mother of a son I adore, the images of these children haunt my dreams.
We speak a great deal about the atrocities that the women face here and of the desperation of children forced into the militias. But who is talking about these littlest victims? These children devastated by the conflicts are the future of Congo. I cry for them and I cry for Congo.