Since 1996, six million people have been killed by warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Countless women have been raped. Some 400,000 women are raped there each year. Most nations have given up on Congo. The U.S. has poured tons of money into Congo for development, but not toward a peace process. It's hopeless, most think.
But not everyone has given up. Around the world, grassroots movements are raising up astonishing, visionary leaders who point the way toward a new future of peace, and that's true even in Congo.
Last week, I was thrilled to attend a reception honoring Congo's leading voice for peace, Neema Namadamu. She ranks with Leemah Gbowee, the Nobel laureate from Liberia and Mairead Maguire, the Nobel laureate from Belfast -- two of our greatest living peacemakers. What an inspiration she is!
"The vision for my life is to create a new Congo," Neema told us. "Women have to rise up and start leading."
Neema has been leading all her life. She contracted polio at age two, and though she walks with crutches, she never lets it hinder her. Neema is determined to empower women, so she has founded many projects and organizations, starting with Maman Shujaa, a national woman's group. The name means "Hero Women." She has acquired a nationwide telecommunications license to set up a new national telecommunications network so the Congolese people can communicate with one another and the world, and in particular, so women can tell their stories. Already, she has transformed and empowered many women.
She was recently selected as one of three grassroots journalists from around the world to participate in "Voices of the Future," an 18-event, U.S. speaking tour sponsored by World Pulse, where she addressed huge audiences at the Clinton Global Initiative, the Women's Nobel Initiative, the U.S. State Department and CNN, among others. Because of her efforts, the Obama administration has named a special envoy to Congo.
"The U.S. continues to invest billions of dollars in Congo, but has not one dollar in real return," Neema told interviewer Roxanne Scott [see www.namadamu.com]. "The Maman Shujaa of Congo are encouraging our powerful friends to invest their influence, their experience, and their wisdom. We're asking them to put the 'human' into their humanitarian aid. We don't want to need aid. We, the Maman Shujaa women of Congo, want to take our future into our own hands. All we need is peace. [We want] our influential friends to help establish a real peace process, a new environment where true peace can be achieved."
Neema compares the greed and corruption in Congo to polio. "But there is a cure," she says. "In fact, the cure is so powerful it is spreading faster than the disease. Health has come over us and immunity to these ills is taking hold. The cure is the light of love. Love for one another has opened our eyes and built us up with a profound strength. Love for each other has caused us to respect each other's community. Love and respect for each other's community has bound us together in hope, in possibility. Love and respect for each other's community has given us a passion for our country, and a vision for its people."
Once, Neema's daughter was beaten by soldiers, and Neema felt a strong desire for violent revenge. "Somehow I could see that the way of revenge only brings about more avenging," she says in the interview. "I wanted to break the cycle. I wanted my daughter to heal, to be in good health, in life. I knew there was no life, no peace, no satisfaction in anger [or in revenge]. As that realization came over me, I let all of those negative things go. When I did, the most amazing thing happened. Love filled my heart and consciousness -- love for all, including those who would be my enemies. So I went and met with those soldiers. I told them I was their mother and I expected better of them. They asked me for forgiveness and begged me to come visit them often. I realized that love is the most powerful weapon of all, especially coming out of the heart of a mother."
"And so," she told us last week,"we don't fight with the men. We are fighting the system. And my job now is not to raise money but to connect people, to propose solutions and to empower women, especially through technology."
While she spoke of the killings and the suffering of women who have been gang raped and now have HIV, she also talked of the rape of the earth. Congo has the second largest rain forest on the planet, she pointed out, and while the nations dismiss Congo, it actually holds the key to our common future.
"Climate change is a global issue, and we all must take action together for a solution. So this is not a problem for Africa, but for the planet. We must find a solution for future generations, for the earth itself."
Later, I asked Neema where she found God in all these crises and struggles. "Everything is God!" she said with a smile. "I call God, 'The Coordinator.' This is not about us, it's all about God. God is using us. We are just instruments for God."
"Someone said to me in New York recently, 'You have no power, no money, no weapons -- how can you expect to make a difference?' 'Yes,' I told him, 'We have no power, no money, no weapons, but we have God, so we are going to change the world.'"
Neema Namadamu is a visionary leader and charismatic speaker who, despite all, has an abundance of faith, hope, energy and love. I urge everyone to learn more about this extraordinary peacemaker by visiting www.namadamu.com, or by making a contribution to her work through www.earthtreasurevase.org/donate.
Together, we can help her bring about a miracle of peace.
This first appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, at www.ncronline.org, on Oct. 15, 2013.
John Dear's new book, "The Nonviolent Life," is now available from www.amazon.com. Next year, John will undertake a national book tour. Visit www.johndear.org or contact www.paceebene.org. To join his work with "Campaign Nonviolence," contact www.paceebene.org.Lazarus, Come Forth! and John's other recent books, such as Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings; Put Down Your Sword and A Persistent Peace, are also available from www.amazon.com.