So after 9 weeks in the DRC the adventure comes to an end this week. It has been some experience. Everyday has been a fight. It feels like we have worked constantly at the extremes of frustration/stress and fulfilment/success…no in between. Life to the full I suppose.
I can’t imagine there are many places in the world at an earlier stage of development and infrastructure. Nothing here is easy. Every morning I pray for grace and patience for the complete incompetency that we will invariably encounter during any given day! Incompetency and corruption is pervasive through the government, international NGOs and local organisations. Almost all are out to make a name for themselves and line their pockets. Every level of society here is corrupted. From the top of the government who pocket billion dollar contracts from India and China for minerals none of which reaches the people; to the army who have endless supplies of guns, rocket launchers and ammunition but are not paid; to schools where to pass exams in university, secondary or primary you have to bribe the teachers or have sex with them; to the churches where the pastors get rich and the sick stay poor; to every person you meet who feels you owe them money. Everyone is out for themselves and their family. There is little community or loyalty to tribe or country.
In the past this country has been brought to its knees by European colonisation and slavery, then raped and pillaged by its African neighbours. Now the government and rebel groups are tearing the place apart from inside. All for the love of money. The source of all Congo’s problems is its mineral resources. Nowhere is it more evident that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’
Despite all of this I still kinda love the place!!
At times it has felt like being in the Mourne mountains with my brothers. In the darkness trying to get a fire going. Blowing on the few embers that exist, trying to squeeze out some sparks of light. But when the embers spark into flames it makes all the all the effort worthwhile.
The project has been successful beyond what I had hoped, imagined or even asked for in prayer. Even working as a psychologist I had found myself cynical as to how much change CBT could have in such desperate situations. However the psychological, emotional and behavioural change in the children has been incredible. I have never seen lives totally changed like this. Overall our post-testing has shown a significant effect. Every child has had a reduction in symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety. More important and moving are their individual testimonies.
On Friday we had a ‘graduation ceremony’ where the kids stood in front of the town, mayor, local dignitaries, UN officials, NGO directors etc and testified to the change in their lives. From being constantly tortured by flashbacks, guilt and shame…to being able to control their thoughts; from never being able to sleep because of nightmares…to a full peaceful nights sleep; from having no hope and a plan to kill themselves…to having hopes and dreams for the future; from constantly fighting and avoiding others…to being able to form friendships again. There were even stories of recovery from physical (psychosomatic) pain! I could write forever about the individual stories. All credit and goes to the young people for trying so hard to recover from their trauma, and to the Almighty for answering the prayers of all those who I know were remembering this work.
It was not just the result of 7 weeks of group therapy. As well as psychological help the young people simply needed people to listen to what they had done without judgement, to hope for them, to affirm that their future can be better than their past, and to believe that God has a plan for their lives.
Working with the parents and caregivers has had a great impact. With the help of World Vision and local organisations we were able to get all of the girls out of the brothels and living with someone in their extended families. We have identified host families for the remaining street boys and the child soldiers who have no family and hope to bring these together this week.
We have employed 10 local people over the course of the intervention and have trained the World Vision staff to continue the psychosocial work. WV are also keen to extend this training to their other projects in the DRC. In Beni, the organisational relationships are now built and contracts signed so any future work with underage girls working in brothels or ‘street boys’ should involve these children being placed with a family before the trauma work ends.
All of this has been dependant on the money that many of you folk donated to the project the night before we left! We have also invested around $3000 in buying equipment to get the vocational training classes up and running. Carpentry and mechanics tools for the boys, sewing machines and material for the girls. The goal, as the old cliché goes, is teaching them how to fish rather than just giving them a fish.
The money you gave has also been used to start microfinance projects (book selling and bead making), and to buy hygiene kits for the girls, mosquito nets, clothes, food etc.
This week will be mad trying to get all finished. After 9 weeks without a full day off I am definitely looking forward to a break! Am hoping to meet up with good friends in Uganda on Thursday for a few days, then homeward bound.
When I sit down again in 5 Lewis Park it’ll probably hit me that this has been both the hardest and the best thing I have done with my life so far.