Janice Kamenir-Reznik is co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. JWW's work is currently focused on the crises in Sudan and Congo. Janice and five other delegates traveled to Congo's eastern provinces to work with survivors of the country’s decades-long conflict, which has claimed nearly six millions lives. They met with JWW's partners on the ground, with whom JWW works to create innovative programs and projects that change lives and transform communities. To learn more, please visit: jewishworldwatch.org
All six JWW travelers are back home, safe and sound. While the jet lag dissipates, our experience in Congo lingers. In the months and years to come, we will each try to make sense of what we witnessed.
We will grapple with the stories of unimaginable brutality, hatred and violence, with appreciation for the brave people building a brighter future despite the burden of a deeply troubled past. We will confront the grave challenges facing the country – and recommit ourselves to seizing opportunities to make a difference.
The task of transforming Congo in the ways that it needs to be transformed can be wholly overwhelming at first glance. It is a long-term challenge. We know that our projects and our visits are enormously impactful. Yet, they cannot lift the entire population of Congo out of the poverty and violence that now prevails. Our advocacy at home in the US plays a key role in this long game; we are actively and persistently pushing for the kinds of reforms needed to turn the page on this horrific chapter in Congo’s history.
Yet, to serve our mission, we must work simultaneously on these two parallel fronts. We strive every day to build political will and drive the sorely needed long-term change. Our trips have a different goal. We travel to bear witness to mass atrocities and genocide, and to share the support of the community of conscience we have developed to bring solace and assistance to the survivors of those tragedies. No one – not one person – should ever have to face these horrors alone.
Both of these objectives are on our minds as we return to Los Angeles. The trip’s impact is amplified each and every time that we repeat Esther's recounting of her life as a sexual captive of militias – every time that we talk about Antoine, who was robbed of his childhood and conscripted into a militia, until he was finally liberated by an organization that we support. This is what it means to bear witness. We travel to Congo and listen to these stories so that they can be retold. We do it so that you will join us in bringing solace and assistance to the survivors, and in speaking out to prevent future crimes like these from plaguing our world.
By reading about our experience in our blog, we hope that you too will struggle to make sense of our collective duty as people of conscience in the face of the great cruelty that afflicts our world. Below you can read some observations from the travelers on our journey:
Esther and Antoine are pictured above. They are both beneficiaries of BVES, a program funded by JWW.