I am always filled with sadness to leave Congo and our work here. With each trip (four for me now), I feel more and more connected to the people and our projects. There are so many remarkable Congolese people doing such important work to rebuild their country after so many years of war, and I have seen some real progress. Of course, these are baby steps. There is so much more to do.
With each trip, however, the conversation changes about what needs to be done and how to do it. While the women who have been raped clearly still need assistance on so many levels, now that the conflict has abated a bit, there is more focus on projects and changes that can really impact Congo's future. The work that is being done to certify that the mines are demilitarized has already impacted many Congolese communities by discouraging the armed groups. Now that many corporations like Intel, HP, Apple and others are committed to sourcing their minerals responsibly, there is less incentive for armed groups to seize control of them. As a result, local communities are now beginning to benefit from the artisanal mines which have become a life- line for them, providing them with much needed income. There is still a long way before the mines benefit the infrastructure of communities, but again this is a positive start.
On this trip, we also saw the potential future for Congo when we visited Virunga National Park and the projects in its Virunga Alliance. This is a $200 million, infrastructure development and sustainability project that aims to foster peace and prosperity through the responsible economic development of natural resources for four million people who live within a day's walk of the park borders. The initial phase of the project is building a hydro-electrical plant which will provide electricity to more than 7,000 homes. The hope of the project is to eventually rebuild eastern Congo's infrastructure through sustainable energy, local industry, and tourism. It is a project that envisions where Congo can and will one day be. It left me inspired and full of hope.
As I leave Congo, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to engage in these conversations and be part of Jewish World Watch, an organization that is committed to helping facilitate these changes for Congo. I return to Los Angeles energized and recommitted and look forward to our next trip.