WARNING: This post contains content and images that may be disturbing to some, so reader discretion is advised. It addresses the current Internally Displaced People’s camp in the Eastern part of the DR Congo. There are images of suffering and wounded. Also, it is a long read, FYI.
What do you think of when with the phrase, “Life-changing event?” Marriage, a birth, buying a house, perhaps even a death? Yesterday I experienced what I would call a “life-changing event” or “perspective-changing event” when I visited an ‘Internally Displaced Peoples’ camp’ just outside of our neighboring city of Bunia. Although I have experienced the other types of life-changing events, there are a few distinguished events that have happened since we moved to DR Congo that have been ‘perspective-changing’ for me; one being the shooting that happened a couple of years ago and yesterday I had another at the IDP camp. For me I would call a “life-changing event” or a “perspective-changing event” any sort of experience that forever alters your perspective on the world and how you individually see things.
Leading up to my visit to the camp I honestly faced a lot of anxiety and even fear over what I may see there and how it would affect me. I talked with others, expressed these feelings and mentally did my best to prepare myself for what I was going to see before going. I asked for prayer and prayed myself that God would allow me to see what I needed to see but that he would also protect my heart. Although nothing about the situation was good, it did end up being better than I expected and for that I was relieved. I went, even though I lost a few nights of sleep over what I might see, and in the end I’m glad that I went. There was much pain and suffering but we were also able to bring some joy and smiles that day with our visit, feed a few who hadn’t eaten in days and put a tarp over a few families’ heads to block out the rain. ‘A drop in the bucket,’ overall but ‘a world of difference to a few’ is what yesterday’s visit could be summed up as.
Three of us, Jon Cadd our Program Manager, Megan his niece and myself, all hopped a plane and flew over to Bunia from Nyankunde to visit the IDP camp. I went with the intention of photographing the need to hopefully bring more awareness so that the people there could receive more aid in the middle of this crisis. Having a ‘mission’ and goal to help them through my visit gave me the courage to actually go, instead of shrinking back from what I might see and staying home. We joined Pastor Bisoke (a national pastor who works as an affiliate with MAF) and one other MAF worker in Pastor Bisoke’s van and drove the short ride to the IDP camp.
Driving up to the camp and parking you come over the hill and see hundreds of tarp shelters with a few larger relief and medical tents mixed in and people everywhere in all directions. The van pulled up to the side of the road and as the doors opened to let us out people began murmuring and crowding around the van to see who or what may be coming to their aid. I remember stepping out after Jon and Bisoke with my camera and the murmuring picked up some, concerning the camera.
We got led into the relief tent where supplies were being stored to do an initial assessment of the current needs and levels of the supplies left that MAF had already provided to the camp. There were large stacks of clothes in bags, rice, oil, beans and some large cooking pots that the volunteers were using to feed the thousands of people. The camp was running low on rice and there was discussion with the cooks about how the pots they had were too small and required more work to use and how it was difficult to cook large enough quantities for the camp.
After the initial assessment of supplies we exited the tent to take a tour of the camp, greet people and see how things were going overall. The aid workers were doing their best to feed everyone in general from one large cooking area and were trying to get supplies in the hands of the individual families so they could begin cooking for themselves; things like charcoal stoves, pots for cooking, plates, cups, charcoal to cook on and of course food. While walking through the camp amongst the tarp shelters there were many families doing just that with small cooking fires wedged in-between the very close tarp shelters. I remember seeing one woman scooping up some lit embers at the main large fire in a small tin can to carefully carry away with her to her shelter, presumably to use to cook with or start her own charcoal going so she could cook a meal.
We walked through the camp being followed by dozens of children who were all very curious about us. I would take a photo of the group and then turn the camera around for their eager eyes to examine while they smiled and giggled as seeing themselves in the image. We looked at the general conditions, the bathroom areas they had set up and then wandered over to the water area to check out the levels. The water was city water, not filtered, flowing into a large water bag in the middle of the camp that would then flow down to a water tap system. Only one of the two huge bags had water in it for the moment and many people were waiting around at the water station with buckets for the water to be given out. I didn’t know how long they had been waiting there and was even more unsure about how long it would be before they received the water they were waiting for. Walking around the camp you would see basins of water that children were drinking from.
As we were walking around the tents a woman with a baby on her back came up to me to tell me her story. Her name was Juliet and the baby on her back was Annok. She led me back to her ‘home’ which was only a frame made from a local type of grass stocks; she didn’t even have a tarp to live under with her three children. She shared with me that she and her children came from a remote village called ‘Rube’ and it had taken them 4 days to walk to the camp with her children. She asked me when more tarps would be brought because she and her children were sleeping in the bare frame in the rain. I did my best to let her know that MAF was working alongside other organizations to bring them aid as soon as we could.
Turning around I met another woman named Erima who was Juliet’s neighbor kitty-corner to her. She too, was living in just a grass frame without a tarp over her and her children. She and her five children had walked for two days from a village called ‘Blukwa’ to the camp. Neither woman’s husband was at the camp; they had stayed behind at the womens’ homes to look after the home while the women and children had fled the growing violence. Neither woman knew if their husband was still alive or if their house still stood.
Another woman came and sought Pastor Bisoke and myself out to come and see her ‘home’ and hear her story when we were finishing with the other two ladies. We walked a ways across the camp to a grass frame covered in a tarp. She asked me to take a picture of her ‘home’ and herself next to it. She told me her name was Biwaga. She and her 5 children had come to the camp by a two-day car from a village called Chelle. Biwaga’s biggest concern was for her children now that they were living at the camp. Back in Chelle there was a local school that her children were attending but now that they were living in the IDP Camp, there was no school for her children to attend. “What am I supposed to do when there is no school here?” I looked into this woman’s eyes and told her I would tell her story and about the need for a school for all of the displaced children there. I assured here that MAF would do their best to help the people at the camp.
As I listened to these women’s stories and took their photos I looked into their eyes and saw a beautiful strength of endurance and courage along with a hope. Hope for their future, hope that MAF would be able to help and the hope that telling their story would bring more aid to them. Although I saw many with far-away or desolate looks on their faces during my time at the camp, I also saw moments of joy, hope and strength amongst the people staying there. I cannot even imagine having the strength that I saw embodied there before my eyes.
From there we made our way over to the tent that housed the wounded that had not been brought to the hospital or had returned from there. We entered the tent and went to the back where a group of Congolese sat, some with bandages covering their wounds and others without medical care for theirs. Most had wounds from a machete. The group had not eaten in four days and had nothing to cook or eat with. Jon decided that we would go to the market and purchase some things to help this group specifically that day.
So we loaded back up in Pastor Bisoke’s van and headed to the large open market in Bunia to purchase some of the needed supplies for both the wounded group and the camp as a whole. We purchased another 30 bags of rice, 2 designated for the wounded, more cups and plates for the wounded and charcoal cookers and charcoal for them so they could begin cooking for themselves. We also purchased a HUGE cooking pot to give to the aid workers who were cooking for the whole camp.
When we arrived back at the camp MAF workers and relief volunteers began carrying the bags of rice into the relief tent one by one. After we were able to get to the pot (the pot is so large the side door to the van had to be removed to get it in and out) it was unloaded and carried into the tent where it was met with much whistling and cheering from the relief workers. The cooks and other relief workers gathered around the new huge cooking pot and celebrated by drumming on the pot and dancing while others cheered, whistled and held up the sacks of rice in celebration. The relief and joy was evident on so many faces present in the tent.
We then delivered the needed supplies to the tent of the wounded. We were able to dedicate two sacks of rice to just them and handed out the charcoal cookers, plates, cups and some of the tarps we had purchased. It was the first time I saw a smile on some of their faces, including a young girl with a particularly gruesome wound. ‘A drop in the bucket,’ true but I brought to attention the fact that it makes ‘a world of difference’ to the people who receive the needed items and prayer. One by one you can bring them some relief in the name of Jesus and make an impact on that person’s life that can hopefully flow into the rest of eternity with them coming to know Jesus.
We then took two of the tarps we had purchased and hand-delivered them to Juliet and Erima. The look of astonishment and then joy on the mothers’ faces was evident. It amazed me with how a tarp could bring so much relief and joy to a mother’s face when she knows that her children will no longer have to sleep in the rain. It was difficult to look around and see the hundreds of other families who still didn’t have a tarp over their heads, to know that they got rained on after we left from the thunderstorm that came. I keep wishing we could have helped them all at that very moment being there, seeing the need, but I have to keep reminding myself of what I stated above – one by one, one by one, one by one, do what we can.
We had to leave right after that to make our plane, even though there were still requests for us to come to the big kitchen – probably to see the new huge pot being used for the first time to cook for thousands. It was so amazing and I feel blessed have been there and a part of it. So now I’ve returned home to Nyankunde and have to face the questions that naturally spring up after my visit like, ‘How can I continue to help?’ ‘Why do I get to eat Lord and there are people there who haven’t eaten in days?’ ‘How can I be complaining about – – -whatever it is – – -when there are people over there who don’t even have a tarp to sleep under?’ Etc. Etc. Grace for myself is needed here along with doing what I can to help – some of that is sorting through pictures, writing this blog, writing emails to many different people and so on. Perhaps I will have the chance to go back and visit again but I can encourage others to go and see the people there for themselves. It changed my life, my perspective, for the better and drives me to work hard to help them in the areas that I can like I mentioned above.
I will continue to give of my time and meager skills to help these people as best I can and I know, firsthand, that MAF is also doing what it can to help these people. Our program is keeping tabs on the situation with in-person visits and delivery of aid. One by one we are bringing relief in the name of Jesus to these hurting people. If you would like to give towards this you can send funds to MAF (www.maf.org) labeling it as “Congo IDP fund” for the time being. I believe a specific fund may be set up in the future for this crisis but for now that is how you can give if you feel led to do so. Please be in prayer for everyone at this camp and please be in prayer for Congo – that the violence and unrest would settle down.
If you feel led to give to the Displace People at this camp here is the MAF link to the special fund that has been set up to help those in the camp. Currently they are in need of tarps and rice the most- a tarp costs $15 and a bag of rice is $25.