Sunday, October 26, 2008

The People of Mushenyi

Mushenyi is a remote mountain village, built on a steep hillside with the road running through the center. Houses are settled above the road, while fields and sheds spread out below. Everywhere trees, bushes, and tall grass grow in lush tropical abundance, a world of green.

The village watches us arrive.

About 200 people have been waiting all day to greet us. Some children but mostly elders stand watching us, rail thin, the severity of life etched into their somber bony faces. Here in Mushenyi, young people are conspicuous by their absence. A blanket of tragedy covers this village, its weight palpable: these people have suffered greatly.
Senator Mubalama stands with his people.

I am told the chief of Mushenyi was a rebel who fought against government forces and returned to sack the village whenever his army needed supplies. Food, animals, tools, money, bedding, cooking utensils, even clothes and shoes were stolen.

Everything of value has been taken from these people. Their most precious resource, their young men and women, are gone, too, conscripted as children into a merciless war. Now there are only young children and older adults.

Village elders look for solutions.

The village is asking for help to finish its schoolhouse, which has brick walls but no roof, windows, doors or floors. The community wants to educate the children, so they have a future beyond war, rape, and looting.

Elders pose with the teacher (third from left) in front of unfinished schoolhouse.

Right now, children attend school in a shack open to torrential rains. They have no books, paper, pencils, tables, chairs, or even a blackboard. With little education and no future, the children are prey for paramilitary forces which give them money, then force them to commit atrocities that sever them forever from their families and childhood.
Young boys who would be better off in school.

Walungu territory was known for its animal husbandry before the war. Now the communal shed stands empty, its thatched roof collapsing and its down hanging ajar. Mushenyi village is also asking for donations of pigs, goats and cattle to replace the stock that was stolen.

Empty animal shed.

Many women from here were taken into the bush to become victims of sexual violence; more than half did not return.
Mushenyi women.
After a decade of atrocities, it is only this year that women have begun to break the silence and speak publically about their ordeal. For more on this, read about Eve Ensler's amazing work in Bukavu this last September.

I stand facing 200 people who want me to fix their schoolhouse--who essentially want me to save their community. Not wanting to promise anything I cannot deliver, I tell them I will bring goats the next time I come . . . and they are delighted, or at least they appear so, too polite to show disappointment.

Working together, you and I can make a big difference in the lives of these people. We can finish the school, pay the teacher for one year, and buy animals and tools so the village can become self-sustaining once more. Won't you please donate something, large or small--everything helps.

With love and gratitude,

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