07/29/2014 09:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Into the Mountain

JWW Board Member Diana Buckhantz is joining with four other delegates travelling with JWW to Congo's eastern provinces to work with survivors of the country's decades-long conflict, which has claimed nearly six millions lives. They will meet with JWW's partners on the ground, with whom JWW works to create innovative programs and projects that change lives and transform communities. 

Miners of Kalimbi

For the last several years, we at Jewish World Watch have been educating about and advocating to change the situation in Eastern Congo -- a situation that is largely the result of conflict over ownership of the mineral mines. Today, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Kalimbi Tin Mine, crawl up into it and talk personally with the miners. Kalimbi is a certified conflict-free mine -- one of the first to become certified in South Kivu.  It was an astounding experience on several levels and a cautiously hopeful one as well.

One important condition of becoming and remaining a conflict-free mine is to guarantee that no one under 18 works in the mines. Now that their children are not allowed to work, the community is asking for them to have access to education which many in the village are unable to afford. (To put this in perspective, it is about $4-7 a month per child). We went to the town of Nyabibwe to visit the mine and discuss with the Congolese living in the village the possibility of an education project for the children. After meeting with the children, parents and officials in the village, we went to see the mine.

We were led to the entrance of the mine -- a man- made hole in the side of the mountain -- and continued to walk about 500 feet up the very narrow muddy passageway of the mine to where the men were working. As we climbed up, the air became thick and hot. It was tight and hard to breathe. We found the men working in a tiny space - chipping away at the tin. We sat and talked with them. It had taken them one and a half years to get to this point in the mountain.   The mine would now be worked for about five years. It is hard, grueling work, but it is a livelihood that has the potential to do much for the men and their community.

Consistent with the Congo Mining Code, the men have formed a cooperative that shares all the profits. They elect a committee that serves for two years and helps manage the profits. The committee makes decisions about buying new equipment or loaning miners money for projects.  All of this is a far cry from the days when the rebels controlled the mines and plundered the profits while at the same time destroying communities, raping women and abducting children. As the demand for conflict-free minerals has grown, the power of the rebel groups has diminished and communities are beginning to find ways to profit from these resources.

The Enough Project, JWW's trusted partner in our work in Congo, recently published a report that examines the impact of the Dodd-Frank law which mandates that U.S. companies know where their minerals originate and if they are in fact certified as "conflict free." The results are encouraging. According to Enough, 60 percent of the mines in Congo are now certified as conflict free.  But this is just a start. In the DRC, there are still many mines that are not certified. Even more importantly, in most cases, the surrounding communities do not yet derive any benefit from the mines. Much thought needs to go into strategizing about how the profits and benefits can be shared by all.

I would like to take credit for this metaphor but I can't. This afternoon, our amazing consultant and friend, Amani Mataboro who accompanied us into the mine, said that the climb inside the mine was like Congo. As you keep walking, you begin to think you will never get to the top but then suddenly you see the men and you are there. His hope is that Congo is like that climb. One day, suddenly she will finally be the country -- with all her beauty and possibility -- we all know she can be.