I’ve been in major stall mode with this blog post. Every time I go to write it, I end up a weepy mess and decide to try again later. Since it is the last day of 2015, the time is now.. so here goes, tears and all.
Earlier this year, in the middle of summer and our busy wedding season, we journeyed to Africa. When you receive an invitation to partner with a nonprofit in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you just say yes. Or we did, anyway.
Justice Rising is made up of a team of incurable optimists working tirelessly with the vision to see every war affected nation restored to peace. They currently have projects in Kenya and Somalia, but their main focus is the eastern part of the DRCongo. Their mission includes educating children at risk, creating sustainable jobs and developing community leaders, which is no small undertaking in a country still affected daily by war.
Visiting a place with a reputation like the DRC was a bizarre experience. Reading statistics before meeting faces creates a cloud of expectations.. UNICEF reports that this is one of the top three most dangerous places to be born in the world.. so what is that going to look like? What will it feel like to be there? Will we be ok? But off we went, questions and all..
First came visas. Then required vaccinations. And then the 40-ish hour journey from the US to Rwanda, where we then took a car for the last leg of the trip from Kigali, Rwanda to Goma, DRC, and crossed the border on foot.
Once in Goma, all preconceived ideas and expectations faded away. The main roads in Goma abruptly create an off-roading experience, because they sit on top of raw volcanic rock – amazingly, traffic tolerates this 24/7! Anyone curious enough to put two-and-two together, quickly notices that Goma has an angry companion in the form of an active volcano called Mount Nyiragongo, that violently erupted as recently as 2002, spilling a 6 foot deep, nearly mile wide lava lake right through Goma! It even glows red at night[!]. So THAT’s why the roads are rocky! In complete contrast to this, we were soon greeted with endless waves and shouts of, “Mzungu!” and the most welcoming, joy-filled faces you could imagine. Street vendors selling a bounty of fresh produce, colors blazing. Women walking, talking and laughing together, skillfully balancing what looks like an uncanny load of food, water, laundry, firewood (or whatever!) atop their heads. Tiny barefooted children carrying even tinier barefooted babies on their backs without complaint. A sharing culture that wants to take care of each other. As an example (and since we are so passionate about seeing children cared for in India), we asked if there were any children living on the streets in the DRC. We learned that there are almost no homes for children. It turns out that people in the DRC take in children who have been abandoned or have lost their parents — a common-sense form of adoption I suppose, but nevertheless, a major act of responsibility and beautiful example of the true heart of DRC. How amazing is that?!)
Justice Rising has a number of schools in the DRC, but we spent our time focusing on the ones in Goma and a tiny village called Kalembe. In the DRCongo, only half of all children have the opportunity to attend school, and of those that do, most are boys. From that group, only half of them will make it past the fifth grade. That’s 25% of the nation graduating secondary school. Justice Rising is a huge part of changing those numbers dramatically, and we were humbled to get a glimpse of what their work is creating in children and lives around the DRC.
To witness this movement of change and see these tiny faces of hope.. well, there are no words, but I’m in tears again, so I’ll let them show you through these images:
(This was the cinema in Goma, you guys! I am still in awe every time I look at this photo. Seeing little kiddos peeping through cracks in the walls was beyond endearing.)
From Goma, getting to the village was a 7 hour journey on unpaved roads (read: 7 hours of jostling and being thrashed around because ‘unpaved road’ doesn’t do the reality justice) to the most picturesque, prehistoric-looking jungle we had ever seen. Mud huts scattered amidst dense banana and palm trees and rolling mountains, and children running around in little packs together. No running water, no cell service or internet of any kind and no power lines to mar the skyline, this truly has to be one of the last places on earth that is still so ‘unplugged’, and it was breathtaking.
Visiting the littlest class of youngsters in the village is a sound and sight that will never, ever leave us.
I asked the Justice Rising team if the kiddos in this class had a scholarship sponsor yet, and was told they did not. Very short story shorter, we now have a direct deposit set up through Justice Rising — only $35 a month not only covers half of the entire class’. (There are a few students listed on the JR site that still need sponsors, and some of them would be the other half of this class! Please do consider joining us in creating a scholarship for these little gems.)
This little one. Oh man. She has a special spark. From the minute I met her, I was smitten. She is learning French and is a perfect student — you should hear her recite her exercises, your heart would melt. In Swahili, her name means ‘Answer’, and I have a sense that her life truly is a living Answer.
I think of her joy and her innocence and beauty every single day, and hold her in hope, along with her classmates — that they may know a country and future of peace and justice.
Cass, the founder + heartbeat of Justice Rising. This girl has lived in war zones of Africa since she was 18, and exists in such a desire for Justice and Peace that she seems to know no fear. She’s negotiated with war lords and escaped raids, and is the first to visit an area when it is under attack. With her flawless French and Swahili, too, she is respected and loved by everyone we saw and met in the DRC. (She may have even saved our life once, too, but that’s another story for another day.)
It was an honor to witness her passion as she worked tirelessly. She is being change in the world in all that she does, and she will leave the world better than she found it. Cass, we love you so, so much.
As we close 2015 and look into the New Year, I invite us all to take a stand for Justice in our world, and be a part of seeing new patterns created in education and peace. Join us in our efforts by donating once, or even monthly — as little as $3 a month makes such a difference! See more of what Justice Rising is up to here, and if education isn’t you main interest, perhaps you will find inspiration in one of their other efforts and jump in on that, too.
A heartfelt cheers to 2016, friends! May your world be filled with peace, both within your home and beyond. We’ll be back with more stories soon!
And farewell for now, Beautiful DRC.. you have changed us forever. You are not forgotten. We will be back. xx