Diane Kabat is a Board Member of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. JWW's work is currently focused on the ongoing crises in Sudan and Congo. Diane recently traveled, along with fellow JWW Board Members Diana Buckhantz and Janice Kamenir-Reznik, to Congo's eastern provinces to meet with JWW's on-the-ground project partners, to participate in the dedication of JWW's Chambucha Rape and Crisis Center, and to work with survivors of Congo's decades-long conflict to build innovative new partnerships and projects.
June 27, 2013
After five days in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, we are now taking the "fast boat" to Goma, at the north end of Lake Kivu. This is a last minute change in plans. Because of the M23 activity reported recently, we avoided this area. But, after talking to aid relief agencies and security officials, we decided to go for it. We'll be crossing the border back into Rwanda this evening after making a few additional site visits.
As we leave Bukavu, we must say "au revoir" to our dear friend, guide and translator, Amani. He has been with us every day and has managed every detail on the ground with Naama in the JWW office. Amani makes things happen here in Bukavu, not only for his JWW partners, but for the people in the South Kivu region.
He along with his wife Amini are the founders of ABFEK (Actions pour le Bien Etre de la Femme et de L'Enfant en Kivu), a community-based organization that provides victims of violence, women and children, with the opportunity to rebuild their lives. When Amani's own cousins were raped and left with long-term physical and emotional damage, ABFEK was created.
One of the successful projects that Jewish World Watch sponsors with ABFEK is the Educational Assistance Program. Yesterday, for over an hour, we once again maneuvered the difficult hillside roads of Bukavu to Amani's village of Mumosho (comprised of 6 districts) to see ABFEK. JWW has sponsored 52 secondary students (50 percent girls, 50 percent boys) during the last school year (2012-2013) by paying school fees. In addition, we supported 113 younger primary school students with school supplies and uniforms.
After another celebratory greeting, we gather in the community room to meet the older students, many of whom are "double orphans," a phrase used to describe the loss of both parents to the war. All of us are eager to share our stories. The first student to speak is Bamanye, a dynamic 16 year old girl who says (translated from French), "I finished the last school year without difficulty (fees paid). I was able to concentrate on my studies and work hard. I want to be useful for society."
We are all very surprised when she continues to speak in English, "My mother has to care for everyone by herself and work very hard. But, she does not see much improvement for her family. She prefers the ABFEK action for her children. She knows that it will improve the well-being of women and children in Kivu." Bamanye thanks us for sponsoring her this school year, and hopes we will continue. After hearing from about 20 students, we are left with the feeling that these teenagers, all wanting to be lawyers, teachers, doctors and engineers, will be able to make societal improvements for their generation and the generations to follow.
Then, the students are eager for us to share our stories, who we are and what we do in America. Hopefully, being with us will encourage them to continue to work hard. We explain to the students that we are in a partnership together. We can only fund their education if they promise to do well in school and work toward change.
Statistically, in developing countries like Congo, every additional year of education will increase a person's future income by about 10 percent. JWW funding provides not only educational opportunity, but stability for these children, whose schooling is often interrupted by lack of funds or increased military conflict. Providing an education and teaching trades to this abandoned generation are the only ways the conditions in Congo will approve. And, our dear friend Amani is trying to make this happen with Jewish World Watch support.
We leave Congo late afternoon today, and I truly will miss Amani and the Congolese people. Not only are they physically attractive with expressive, rounded dark eyes and beautifully shaped lips, but they are equally beautiful inside, full of kindness, sensitivity, and incredible passion about life.
Meanwhile, I just received this note from my daughter, "By the time you get home, lots will have happened here with voting rights, abortion access (in Texas), gay marriage, and immigration reform. It's important for me to remember all that you are doing in Congo in the midst of these policy things here, and how much the struggle for justice exists everywhere. What we are fighting for here is what people in the DRC might never be able to imagine; but in fighting for their basic humanity, I hope they can see a day when their own struggles are lessened."
This is my last blog post for this trip, but now that I have borne witness, I have a deeper commitment to tell these stories. It is my obligation. I promised the students.
JWW is proud of its longstanding partnership with ABFEK, the organization described above. If you are interested in supporting JWW's and ABFEK's critical work in eastern Congo, please contact Naama Haviv at email@example.com.