Janice Kamenir-Reznik with Congolese survivor (DRC 2009)
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 will meet 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
I write this blog from my flight gate, preparing to depart for a fifth trip to Congo. Although I have traveled frequently to the region over the past decade, my husband, kids, mother, and friends become anxious each time that I leave. When I return, they breathe a collective sigh of relief.
It’s true that Congo is an exceptionally violent and dangerous place for so many who live there, especially in the Kivu region where we are going. Yet, I have no worries about our group’s security. Jewish World Watch has excellent partners in the region who take great care to keep us out of harm’s way. I tell my friends and family that they should not fret about me. It is the safety of the Congolese women and children that should keep all of us up at night.
Every woman I have met on each of my trips to Congo – and most assuredly, everyone we will meet with over the next 10 days – has been a victim of horrible violence. Hundreds of thousands of women have survived brutal rapes. Thousands more are threatened on a daily basis. The same is true for the hundreds of thousands of children who have been kidnapped into militias or rendered orphans by the many years of war.
We know that it’s our collective responsibility to go into this complex, violent, lawless region. We meet with survivors of unspeakable violence, and our partners who provide the life-changing services that offer a road to recovery. We evaluate the effectiveness of the projects funded by JWW supporters, and brainstorm with partners about ways to serve more people in need. We spend our days talking and listening. We celebrate when women recover. We give and get the warmest hugs and the deepest expressions of gratitude.
And then, after a week, we leave. Leaving would be intolerable if we did not have a reason for going in the first place, and an even better reason for leaving. Ours is simple — it is the very reason we started JWW ten years ago. We must bear witness. This requires a presence. If we don’t see the place for ourselves, we cannot begin to understand. And, we must mobilize, which requires us to leave.
Not everyone who supports JWW’s work can make the trip to Congo. Yet, I firmly believe that our group of travelers represents our entire constituency. Indeed, each time one of our groups leaves for the region, I know that we have hundreds of thousands of people of conscience at our backs. Through us, our community is bearing witness. So, as we each write our blog entries this week, we hope you will read them and allow yourself to be transported with us, as if you are here, too. And indeed, you are here with us in spirit. We will make sure that your spirit is shared in each of our interactions with the survivors of Congo’s unspeakable atrocities. And when we return, we will work together to ensure that the world will Not Stand Idly By.