The Latest from Goma

From Zarembka
The situation in Goma seems to remain “calm,” meaning that people are tentatively going about their normal everyday tasks of living. There are reports that M23 is planning on evacuating the outlying towns they captured and retreat from Goma. I’ll believe this when there are actual reports that they have left. There are also news reports that trucks full of goods are leaving the town for the north where the rebels came from. Does this mean that M23 is looting the town? I am not overly surprised if M23 leaves Goma because I didn’t think they had enough soldiers to control such a large city together with the rural areas that they already control. People in Goma are wary about the Congolese army returning because they fear reprisal/revenge killings of those whom they will accuse of helping the M23 – to translate the code, Kiyarwandan-speaking people living in Goma.

          The AGLI supported staff and Quakers in North Kivu and Gisenyi, led by David Bucura, AGLI Coordinator for Central Africa, have been following the situation closely and have been the source for most of my information. They asked me shortly after M23 took Goma, since there was a shortage of food -- the roads from Masisi which is the breadbasket for Goma were blocked -- if they could use the $2420 that was in the AGLI account to buy food. I went out on a limb and agreed even though these funds were not in AGLI’s budget and would depend on extra fundraising. Since these funds are for salaries and other program expenses, AGLI will have to reimburse the Gisenyi account. On Saturday they distributed 68 bags of corn (maize) of 25 kilograms each (55 pounds) to 91 families including 36 rape survivors. They are now giving out 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of beans to each family.

          The AGLI staff estimate that there are 15 people in each family. When I questioned this large number, I was told that this means “extended family” which is how poor people survive in such conditions, that is, by sharing and helping each other out. Moreover people in Goma frequently host people who had fled to Goma from the towns that had previously been attacked. When I worked as a young man in a Rwandan refugee camp, I was amazed by the fact that, when there was hunger and people got some food, they shared it with family, friends, and neighbors. Then in return when their neighbors received some food, the sharing was reciprocated, although they also included elderly people and young mothers with children who were not likely to have much to give back. I found this most impressive since it belied the “rugged individualism” that is the bedrock of American psychology that I had grown up with.

          The AGLI group in Goma/Gisenyi has formed a Goma Relief committee to decide the mechanics of a relief program including that hard question of deciding who is going to be helped. There are a million people in the Goma area and we can’t possibility help all. They have decided to help the rape survivors who are part of the HROC-North Kivu program and poor members of Friend’s churches in Goma. They would like to help 270 families (or 4050 people at 15 members per family) each with 25 kilograms of corn flour and 10 kilograms of beans. I have attached a picture of women receiving the distribution last Saturday at the Gisenyi Peace Center. This food relief is going to cost $7338 for one distribution.

          When AGLI participated in relief during the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, we realized that, while giving humanitarian aid, as we called it, was necessary and useful, psychological support was also important, particularly when we realized that Kenyan Quakers were the only group doing this. Recovering from the shock, trauma, and despondency that occurs when one’s world is turned up-side-down is also important. If people can regain a sense of perspective, can have hope, can realize that they are not the only ones suffering, can look positively at the future, that healing is important for them and their family’s well-being.

          First Theoneste Bizimana, the HROC coordinator in Rwanda, plans to do a one-week residential healing companion training for 15 participants at the Gisenyi Peace Center at a cost of $1350. The participants will be people who have participated on our HROC and AVP workshops in the past. After this training, 27 one-day listening sessions for 540 participants are planned. This will occur in Goma, conditions permitting. The healing companions will work with a HROC facilitator for each session. The 270 families given the rations above will send one man and one women to the listening sessions. Theoneste himself will develop the agenda and modify it as experience dictates. Each workshop will cost $291 for a total of $7857.

          The grand total for this Goma Relief project as proposed will be $18,965. A number of people have already indicated that they would support this project. I am asking you to also contribute whatever you are able. I also ask you to circulate this request to your meeting, church, friends, family, and other who might be willing to assist. Tax-deductible checks should be made out to “Friends Peace Team/AGLI” with memo notation of “Goma Relief” and mailed to 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104. Or you can also go to the Friends Peace Teams webpage at and click on the AGLI button. If you would like to donate to the AGLI account in England, please let me know and I’ll send you the information.

          If AGLI is able to raise more than the $18,965 needed, I would like to be able to make another food distribution shortly before Christmas. For the people in Goma, it has been a rough year and it would be nice to have a little something extra to celebrate the birth of Jesus.


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