Trip Start Apr 04, 2013
100Trip End Aug 07, 2014
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The ground is black with volcanic rock, Mt Nyaragongo last erupted in 2001 and the lava flow reached the city of Goma. They have just built homes directly on top of this cooled lava and there were piles of volcanic rock everywhere. The roads were absolutely dreadful and the air, especially when driving on the main roads, was thick with black dust. It was always rather overcast, partly because of the constant ash cloud coming from Mt Nyaragongo. It was really interesting to see the patterns on the ground from the lava and I have never seen rock like that before; black with lots of tiny holes
Arriving at the monastery/bible college where we were staying, after a highly uncomfortable bumpy journey in the minibus, was another contrast. We were staying in a very large compound by the huge lake Kivu (one evening we swam in the lake). The scenery here was beautiful, lovely green mountains all around us and we could see Goma in the distance across the lake (it looked okay from far away). It didn't feel like we were in the middle of a war zone while we were there.
The first thing we did on the Friday was visit the maternity clinic that is being constructed in the village of Rusayo which is home to 17,000 displaced people. We had to walk part of the journey because the minibus couldn't drive on the ridiculously rocky road with all of us in it - the driver had to keep getting out to move the bigger rocks out of the way. As we approached the area where the clinic was, I saw the houses were made out of wood or banana leaves. There were quite a few government soldiers in this area because we were getting closer to the M23 rebel group (we were about 6-7 miles away).
Seeing the clinic was so exciting! The best way to build the clinic was to work in partnership with the local health authority which meant building a much bigger clinic than originally planned
Comfort Congo also have an agricultural project in Rusayo but this is even closer to the rebel group at present; it was too dangerous for us to visit there this trip. It astounds me that they actually manage to grow things in this land! Unfortunately the rebels stole a lot of their crops but they did manage to get a small harvest so Comfort Congo have provided extra seed.
After visiting Rusayo we went to Comfort Community Church in Karambi where they had a very lively service to welcome us. There was a young boy playing drums made out of a huge paint can for the bass drum & 3 smaller cans. The snare was a tin lid on top of an upturned can. We then went round the corner to a primary school of around 300 children. Most of these children are from displaced families, many are orphans as a result of the war or born of women who have been brutally raped. The school building was very basic; it had no proper floor, just more volcanic rock and much of the wood from the walls was missing as the rebels had taken it to make firewood.
We visited a bigger school on Saturday which was just as basic, there were at least 500 children here. As at the school on Friday, they sang songs for us then we taught them some action songs. We also did some drama and Pedro, one of the guys in our group who is from brazil, danced with Poi as the children sang
We then went to the sewing project which is where vulnerable and displaced women are taught sewing skills so they can earn a living. We heard testimonies from some of the women there. Many of them had been raped during the conflict. The youngest of these girls is now 15 years old and has a child, who looks around 1, as a result of the sexual violence. I can't find the words to describe how meeting and praying with these women made me feel.
From there, we went onto the pineapple juicing project which is a programme for ex child soldiers. There are currently 24 participants but they are looking for funding to support more. We then went to church where we met more women who had been victims of sexual violence. We heard testimonies from 2 elderly women who had been raped numerous times throughout their lives and were in constant pain as a result.
Church on Sunday was fantastic, there was an incredible amount of singing and dancing. They really knew how to praise God!! We all had great fun joining in with the African dancing
On the way back to the border on Monday we stopped off at Gesom hospital in Goma. This is the hospital that Valued helps to fund the reconstructive surgery for women following rape. It also provides maternity services and general surgery. It was great to meet the staff and patients. Here, we handed over some of the equipment that has been collected from Airedale general hospital. Some will still be used in the clinic at Rusayo but, because the build will now be delayed due to funding, we wanted to ensure it would be used rather than lost or stolen in the meantime. They were very happy to receive it!
The suffering and need here in DRC is so graphic and the poverty so raw! Yet they have so much hope and faith in God. Meeting these people, who live in such desperate circumstances has been so humbling. Every single person we have met has been so thankful to us for our visit, many of them were astounded that we would even want to come to a place that they themselves describe as hell. I found it a privilege to meet so many incredible people over the 5 days we were in DRC who are always trusting and praising God. They never give up hope despite their circumstances and make great sacrifices as they work against such corruption and a messed up infrastructure for a brighter future for the people in the country that they love.