November 10, 2009
JWW in Congo: Maybe the World Has Not Closed Its Eyes
by Diana Buckhantz
I thought it couldn’t get worse. Yesterday listening to Renee and Sabine tell the stories of their rapes I felt my heart begin to splinter. But today my heart was shattered. Today we visited one of the last remaining IDP (Internally Displace Persons) camps where 3500 refugees live - men, women and children who are either too afraid or too ill to return to their villages. They live in squalor and filth with minimal food and only the most basic medical care. The children suffer from chronic malnutrition, their bellies swollen from starvation. I know of no words in the English language to describe what we saw.
The children look at us with beautiful piercing eyes. They want their pictures taken. They want our attention. Our visit is a diversion from the endless days of nothingness - no school, no toys. This is all those Sally Struthers World Vision commercials, except it is real and in front of my eyes. I am afraid I will burst into tears, and I don’t want them to see the hopelessness I feel. It is impossible for me to describe my sadness.
And then, we meet five more women who have been victims of rape. Two are about 14 years old; two have babies, which I assume were babies of rape. We do not ask their stories this time. We don’t want to make them relive their pain, and frankly today we are not certain how much more we ourselves can hear. But they all want to tell us something. They want to tell us about what they need. They want to tell us that we have given them hope. They want to thank us for coming. I feel so inadequate.
At every project, the staff and community has prepared for our visit. They greet us with songs and we are meticulously introduced to each member of the staff. At one remote health clinic, the entire village came to meet us. Everywhere we go, we are told how our visit has brought them hope. It tears my heart out.
These truly are forgotten people ravaged by decades of war and conflict. It feels as though, with the exception of extraordinary aid workers like those from the International Medical Corps, the world has closed its eyes. But then, I remember that we are here and with every group, we have promised to take their words and images back home. We have promised to let people back in the US know how the people here are suffering. How they have been and continue to be decimated and violated by war and poverty. Maybe the world has not closed it eyes, maybe they just haven’t been opened yet.