3 December, 2012
I’ve been feeling really worried as I’ve heard the news from Goma in the last week or two. Goma is a town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in central Africa, right on the border with Rwanda.
About a million people live there, including many who live in camps for displaced people, survivors of earlier rounds of conflict during the country’s lengthy civil war. Last Wednesday, Goma was taken over by a rebel group – the national army retreated and without them, the UN peacekeeping force stationed there wasn’t able to protect the city. So Goma is now under rebel control.
A couple of years ago I had the privilege to be in Goma, with CBM. I can vividly remember my time there, although it was just a week: the visa issues at the airport, the food, the French language, and the spectacular lush mountain scenery, complete with an active volcano glowing in the night sky, just behind the town.
I remember seeing the camps, seeing how people were struggling, finding ways to live with dignity under difficult circumstances. I got a sense of some of the pain of Goma’s story: civil war, rebel groups, poverty and violence. But I also saw that Goma was full of people just like us – people sending their children to school, growing vegetables, buying and selling at markets, going to work; People working towards a better future for their children and grandchildren.
Perhaps most of all, I remember visiting one of our projects there, a hospital called Heal Africa. As the Congolese director of the hospital showed me around, I could see it was clean, well organised and running smoothly. The atmosphere around the wards was very positive and relaxed as the doctors, nurses and other staff treated their patients with care and professionalism.
That week, I’d been working with key staff from a number of our projects from in and around Goma, including Heal Africa. Our goal for the week was to complete a course on financial management and accountability. What I saw in that course were local people committed to improving things in Goma – working hard to get their heads around some new concepts, but genuinely keen to learn and make the great CBM projects where they worked even greater.
It’s easy to watch the news and see the renewed conflict in Goma, imagining that as the area has seen so much trouble already, the people there are somehow ok with what is happening now. But I know they are not ok – people and organisations with hopes, dreams and plans for the future have now been thrown into turmoil.
Many people are fleeing, hoping to find temporary safety in the new camps that are emerging. Many are being shot, or subjected to extreme violence that so often goes with conflict situations.
As one of the best hospitals in Goma, we’re hearing that Heal Africa is now seeing a huge influx of patients – with gunshot wounds, and amputations. Many that survive will live with disability for the rest of their lives.
I’m so pleased that CBM is activating its emergency response plans to support our partner Heal Africa and the people of Goma. This means we will be working to make sure food, water and shelter are distributed to the most vulnerable including people with disabilities. And we’ll work with Heal Africa to help them cope with the overwhelming medical and rehabilitation needs they are now facing.
From so far away in Australia, it can be hard to know how we can help the people of Goma. But we can pray, and we can donate.
That’s my personal response to the terrible news I’m hearing, and I encourage you to see if you can do the same. It will make an enormous difference to the vulnerable people caught up in this awful situation.
Find out more about CBM’s emergency response to the violence in DRC Congo, and how you can help.