Friday, October 31, 2008

Donate to Completion of Mushenyi Schoolhouse

Empower Congo Women

The beauty of giving in Africa is that you can do so much with very little.

Unfinished schoolhouse with teacher third from left, Senator far right.

Dear Friends,

The people of Mushenyi need your help to finishing building their schoolhouse. Without an education, their boy children have no future and a high probability of becoming child soldiers.

This mountain village was building a school when they were attacked by rebel forces. Children now attend school in a shack that is open to torrential rains with only rickety benches for seats. They have no chairs, tables, books, paper, or even a blackboard.

Current schoolhouse for 110 children.

Robbed repeatedly over the past decade, this village has lost everything of value: its animals, tools, money, and tragically, its young men and women. There are only elders and children left in Mushenyi now. This community desperately wants to educate its children, so they can learn how to survive and then thrive in the modern world.

This resilient village wants to get back on its feet. Let’s help them do that!

Mushenyi school children.

Fund Drive Goal for 2009 - Mushenyi - $2890

$ 1000 Finish construction of school roof - Completed

$1500 windows, doors, rebuild far brick wall
$720 School teacher salary – one year
$340 School benches, blackboards, chalk
$330 School supplies for 110 children

DONATE NOW. Make checks payable to: Empower Congo Women

PO Box 60940

Santa Barbara, CA 93111

Empower Congo Women 501(c)3 charitable organization dedicated to helping Congolese women war victims heal and prosper. Your donations will be fully tax exempt.

Thank you for your contribution to this very worthy cause.

With love and gratitude,

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,

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Road to Mushenyi

Senator Mubalama has asked me to visit Mushenyi, a small village some 3 hours south of Bukavu in Walungu territory. He wants to generate outside support for this community, because it has been robbed repeatedly by rebels for over a decade.

We start out early on a Saturday morning, four men and me in the Senator’s red SUV. Besides the Senator and his driver, there are two translators: my friend Victor to translate Mashi, a local Bantu language, into Kiswahili, and Roland, a bright 21-year old from Kinshasa, to translate Kiswahili and French into English. We stop for bananas and rolls, and stock up on water. Then we are off.

Our route takes us south through Nyangezi, then another hour and a half into the interior. Having travelled this road before, I am prepared for tilled fields, stands of banana, and eucalyptus farms that stretch like variegated carpet to the ring of mountains surrounding this rich valley.

But soon we are climbing, gears grinding, our red SUV tracking a narrow dirt trail up into the clouds, it seems. One side of the road hugs the cliff, while the other drops, I could even say “plummets”, down to the valley floor far, far below. It turns out that Victor is terrified of heights, so luckily for him, I am sitting by the outside window, able to see the entire valley as it falls away below us. The view is breathtaking.

Not liking heights much myself, I take inventory. I am alright, I tell myself: focusing my thoughts on the view, breathing abdominally, squeezing my thumb mound, and ignoring Victor, who is frozen in fear on the far seat. I idly wonder what will happen if we meet another car.

I realize the Senator is telling a story. He’s speaking a combination of French and Kiswahili, so Roland translates.

“He’s saying that once he had an accident here, on this road,” Roland explains. “His car went over the side, all the way to the bottom,” he continues casually. Not much fazes Roland. “Someone driving crazy and lots of cars went over the edge. . . . one truck was full of people . . ." More waiting, and by now I am imagining the full catastrophe. Then he continues, “He says he wasn’t hurt because he is a religious man.”

I am horrified, first for the people who crashed to the bottom, then for us, realizing that their fate could be ours. . . and I’m not all that religious. Of course, as things have it, just at that moment, a transport truck loaded with passengers suddenly roars into view, heading straight toward us at high speed, enveloped in an ominous cloud of dust.

Soon we are stopped, nose to nose with the truck, the drivers eyeing each other coldly. Negotiations begin, and it is decided that since the SUV is smaller, it will hug the cliff while the transport squeezes by. To my eyes, there is no pull-out space, so I watch fascinated from a safe distance.

The Senator, who grew up here in the high country, is undaunted, happily shaking hands with the people riding on top of the load. Roland eats a banana, then throws the peel over the edge, watching it fall like a pebble into a deep well. Victor stands, hands jammed into jean pockets, his back glued to the cliff, watching his feet.

After several tries, the SUV is angled tightly enough against the cliff wall for the truck to inch by. Ever so slowly the transport maneuvers its narrow path. Peering down from their perch, the passengers watch the progress intently, then cheer when the truck clears the SUV. Everyone is smiling now, especially the drivers.

The transport passengers wave goodbye, eager to reach town before dark. Comfortably back in the red SUV, we are relieved, too, laughing and all speaking at once in whatever language comes to mind, no need for translating at the moment.

Soon we arrive in Mushenyi, where it seems the whole town has come out to greet us.

To be continued. . .

With love and gratitude,