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Democratic Republic of Congo

Our time in Goma was an unbelievable experience. Just the shear magnitude of issues and problems was slightly overwhelming yet despite all the horrific things that have happened to many of these people (everything from conflict to a massive volcano eruption) you find a surprisingly thriving human spirit and sense of resiliency. I credit this in no small part to the incredible people who have given their time and in many cases dedicated their lives to the people of Congo. We met both people from the international community as well as local Congolese that have created or are working with girls and boys who had experienced violence and extreme poverty on multiple levels. Our contacts with UNICEF and UN MACC were great and they introduced us to many different NGOs they work with in the field who are instrumental in providing critical medical care for victims of physical and sexual violence, psychiatric and social services, temporary and longer term safe shelter, life skills and occupation training, education and even reunification with families if that's at all possible. Even though we had read and heard about the violence women and girls face in the DRC it was entirely different to see it first hand. We met many girls who have been raped and are now pregnant, HIV positive or in need of fistula operations. These are girls that should be studying in school, giggling with their friends and planning for their future not struggling to recover and survive. We met with an organization called Cajed that is dedicated to assisting former child soldiers and had the opportunity to share lunch (despite the language barrier) with those boys. Included in their studies and rehabilitation are arts programs focusing on singing, dance and painting as a way of getting these kids to open up and express themselves since so many of them have shut down and have PTSD due to the level of violence they were exposed to and forced to commit as child soldiers. Life skill and occupational training courses are a key component for the NGO programs (Children's Voices, Alpha Ujuvi, Heal Africa and Don Bosco) we visited. Pictured above are girls in a cooking class. They make pastries, including delicious beignets (we ate one - ok maybe two), and they sell them to bakeries in the communities. They were absolutely adorable and it is heartbreaking to know that one of these girls has never been allowed to attend school and all the others are now done with their education because they reached 6th grade and their families can't afford to continue to send them to school. They are being taught to bake so that they will be able to earn money for themselves and their families. In addition to cooking, sewing classes are a common and successful occupational training component for many of these programs. The girls have all been victims of violence and are now taking vocational classes - learning to make beautiful skirts, purses, dolls and other handiwork that they sell. They also make school uniforms. Children must wear school uniforms in order to class and it is often far too expensive for parents to afford, one of the many factors preventing children from getting an education. So the uniforms they sew help to ensure that some kids will go to school who otherwise would not be able to. There are so many stories to share from Goma...

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