Back from Bukavu, August 2009

The two weeks that I spent in Bukavu this summer felt like a long time. Each day was filled with new experiences, perspectives and, more practical now… meetings. The Democratic Republic of the Congo feels very far away now that I am back in Toronto. The most important thing in any humanitarian struggle is to find ways to connect people.

The struggle for me is to find ways to keep connected with the people that are fighting for human rights and women’s rights in the DRC. In recent weeks I stumbled across an answer, at least in the short-term, when a book landed in my lap. The connection is circuitous, compelling and interesting.  I read Zainab Salbi’s memoir “Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny : Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam”, a book that taught me a lot about how despicable Saddam Hussein was. As I read this book my mind kept drifting back to the Congo.

Zainab Salbi grew up in Baghdad. One story that remains in my mind is a party that she attended as a teenager. She recounts what happened when people found out that that Saddam’s oldest son, Uday Hussein, roughly the same age as Zainab, was going to be making an appearance. Security locked the doors and wouldn’t let anyone leave. Uday Hussein was famous for “hosting” parties and selecting the girls that he would take and rape. That night Zainab made it home safely, she snuck out with a friend, but the book describes how she and her family were haunted by their inauspicious connection to one of the world’s worst dictators.

The book took me back to the streets of Bukavu, standing once again on the main street of Bukavu, which incidentally Google lists as Avenue President Mobutu when in fact it has long since been changed to Avenue Lumumba. A beige 4×4 truck zooms by me and grabs my attention. I say to my friend Justin Podur – who has been blogging about Congo recently –  “there goes a group that I would like to talk to”. It was a Women for Women International vehicle and they have programs in DRC and an office in Bukavu. Zainab Salbi is the founder and CEO of Women for Women International.

Unfortunately, I ran out of time and I never got to learn about all the great things that Women for Women International were doing in Bukavu. SAFER does share a common value with this NGO: “Victim to survivor to active citizen”.

I recommend you read this book. It is eye-opening and informative— and it might even inspire you to start your own campaign to eliminate rape.

–posted by BM


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