We work in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most people think of war, violence, and extreme suffering when they think of DRC.  Certainly all of that is there. What most people miss are the indomitable spirits of the children and families that call this region home. Community structures are strong, families are big and sheltering, church is a vital part of life, and new life is celebrated and treasured as passionately as death is mourned. Children carry joy and hope despite heavy responsibilities and tragedies at a young age. The resiliency and courage of the children confront the images we hold and inspire us to work tirelessly on their behalf.

“The Congo is not just blood and gore. It also has an incandescent, raw energy to it, a dogged hustle that can be seen in street-side hawkers and besuited ministers alike. This charm is not unlike that of America’s mythical Wild West, full of gunslingers, Bible-thumpers, prostitutes, street urchins, and rogue businessmen. This is the paradox of the Congo: Despite its tragic past, and probably in part due to the self-reliance and ingenuity resulting from state decay, it is one of the most alive places I know.”
— Jason Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters

In the introduction of his newest book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, Jason Stearns seeks to bring light to the situation that has plagued Eastern Congo and the surrounding region, including Burundi, Rwanda and Northern Uganda. Congo is a place of many contrasts: incredible beauty juxtaposed with incomprehensible brokenness; vast riches and chronic destitution; lush fertile land and dusty, empty streets; vibrant colors and music and death and violence…

Photo by Guenter Guni/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Guenter Guni/iStock / Getty Images

How to write about such a complex place? When one is attracted and repelled at any given moment by the same people and circumstances?

The DR Congo is the second largest country in Africa, with a population of over 73 million people, and is bounded by Angola, the South Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania across Lake Tanganyika, and Zambia. The country is roughly the size of Western Europe and home to over 200 ethnic groups, each with a distinct language and culture. (source)

Initially established as a colony of King Leopold II and then of the Belgium kingdom, DR Congo received its current name at the end of the 32-year long dictatorial rule of Mobutu Sese Seko. Ethnic strife and civil war, touched off by a massive influx of refugees in 1994 from fighting in Rwanda and Burundi, led in May 1997 to the toppling of the regime by a rebellion backed by Rwanda and Uganda and fronted by Laurent Kabila. He renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but in August 1998 his regime was itself challenged by a second insurrection again backed by Rwanda and Uganda. The conflict became known as Africa’s First World War because of the involvement of nine African nations, including Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. In 1999 a cease-fire was signed, but fighting continued sporadically and in January 2001 Kabila was assassinated. His son, Joseph became head-of-sate and in the next year was successful in negotiating the removal of Rwandan forces from eastern Congolese soil. At the end of a transitional government set up in 2003, Joseph Kabila was elected president in the first “free” elections in 2006. In disputed elections in November of 2011, Kabila maintained the presidency, and violence continues in the eastern regions of the country. (source)

The current violence stems from what is known as the M23 (March 23) Rebellion, wherein a group of around 700 ethnic Tutsi soldiers (ex CNDP) mutinied against the United Nations-supported Congolese government, even taking the city of Goma, the capital of the North Kivu Province, on November 19, 2012 (source). While fighting from M23 has so far remained contained in North Kivu, uncertainty and fear are still prevalent in South Kivu. The Save the Children orphanage is located in eastern province of South Kivu.  UNHCR  estimates that since January 2012, 2.2 million people have been displaced in north-eastern DRC. (source) While most of the displacement has been in North Kivu, the number of people displaces affects all areas in eastern DRC.

This insecurity impacts the overall stability of the region, it slows trade of goods which pushes food (including milk and formula) prices higher.  It creates a greater increase of people moving to the already straining nearby cities and creates higher numbers of people unemployed.  This puts more stress on already vulnerable and extremely impoverished families.  In the midst of the beauty of eastern DRC is much suffering.  Despite this one often leaves the region of eastern DRC left with indelible images of a resilient, courageous and heroic people.