December 23, 2008
BUHAMBA, DR CONGO, 23 December 2008Ã¢â‚¬”When war once again chased Bageni Katembereza from her home village in September, she shepherded her six children down the dirt roads of eastern Congo toward safety, not knowing where she was headed, only sensing she had to get away.
Once the war’s raucous noise faded behind her, she found Siyawna Mulingeza waiting for her, opening her humble home to a perfect stranger. “They were just wandering on the road, and had no place to sleep. So we invited them into our home,” said Mulingeza, whose simple wood home clings to a furrowed hillside above Lake Kivu.
The massive displacement of civilian populations by the conflict in eastern Congo doesn’t look like similar population movements elsewhere, where giant camps of internally displaced persons form overnight, clustered near the relative safety of urban centers.
Here in the eastern Congo around 70 percent of those left homeless by war are taken in by other families. The hosts, like the guests, have few resources. And it is the hospitality of the poor that welcomes the poor.
In a world that at Christmas remembers there was no room in Bethlehem for the holy family, it is the poor who make room for the stranger in the eastern Congo.
This story repeats itself thousands of times throughout the mountains around the provincial capital of Goma, where rebels led by Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda have battled government soldiers, displacing a quarter million people in recent weeks. It’s the latest outbreak in a long simmering war that weaves ethnic tensions with regional interests amid mineral-rich mountain valleys, producing some 5.4 million dead in the last decade from war-related violence, hunger and disease.
Many, like Katembereza, have been serially displaced.
“We had to leave home in 1996, and again in 2007. And now once again,” she said. “We’re not interested in going back home this time until we’re sure that the war is really over.”
To support the displaced and the families that host them in Buhamba, a Congolese church agency that’s a member of ACT International, the global faith-based alliance of churches and agencies responding to emergencies, has sponsored a food security program that helps residents grow more food to feed their expanded population.
The same hospitality toward the refugee exists in urban settings, something Kanyere Stany discovered after fighting between Nkunda’s rebels and the army spilled into her village of Kibumba on 27 October.
Stany quickly grabbed her four children and fled.
“We hid for three days in the bush. It was raining, and was very hard for the children. We had no food, and nothing to cover them with,” she said. “We finally decided to walk to Goma. It took us 24 hours, and we arrived in the middle of the night.”
Traveling with a small group of dazed survivors, Stany and the others wandered into the city and found a small Baptist church building. They sat outside until daybreak, when a church member discovered them. The congregation mobilised to get them food, and several church members took displaced families to stay in their small, humble homes. Stany and her children settled in a dirt-floor Sunday school room with several other families.
“It’s not like home, but we’re safe here. We’ve been welcomed. Their acceptance is so different from the violence we escaped from,” she said.
The congregation that took Stany in is part of a network of churches that belong to the ACT, so the congregation was able to quickly obtain mats and blankets for sleeping and some pots for cooking.
Local ACT members are committed to supporting and strengthening the networks of private homes and local churches, which are hosting the displaced. In many cases, ACT leaders here say that this traditional way for the population to cope with displacement provides a healthier and more secure environment than relocation into large camps.
As ACT member churches around the world gather support for a
$1.88 million appeal for assisting the displaced in eastern Congo, ACT members on the ground here are helping to encourage a grassroots hospitality that embraces the stranger with healing and wholeness.
Action by Churches Together (ACT) International is a global alliances of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide. PWRDF is a member of ACT. Your un-designated to PWRDF helps to support this life-saving work in the DRC. Thank you for your ongoing support.