By: Timothy F. Young
In telling of my adventures in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, I didn’t expect I’d be telling the story of a man: Herman Chirihambali Lwango. After all, the Congo is considered by the UN to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman, and I was there as a volunteer to help with On The Ground’s upcoming Run Across Congo, a 7-day, 7-marathon journey of women running to support the empowerment of female farmers. However, it was through Herman that I was able to glimpse some history of the war that has ravaged this nation for the past 20 years. It’s been a war that has redefined evil, where the weapons of rape and child soldiers were common weapons that destabilized and terrorized communities into submission.
Herman packs a huge disarming smile that speaks to the resilience and perseverance of the Congolese. His energy and enthusiasm for the opportunities he sees for his people are infectious, and it was not surprising that he was excited to hear of our efforts to fund women’s empowerment projects throughout the coffee growing region of Lake Kivu, since it was the women in Herman’s life who have suffered the most. Herman has lost both parents and a sister to this war. His mother was killed when bandits, usually displaced rebels or military, pillaged their village. His sister died of AIDS resulting from a rape, and his first wife and second child both died in childbirth. Later Herman’s career as a school principal ended when a group of displaced soldiers occupied the building, ousting the 100 students and teachers. Over the course of three months, the soldiers burned all the desks and books for cooking and made world news when they raided the village, raping over 130 women and girls in one 24-hour period.
Today, Herman has two important roles. He’s a volunteer for a non-profit that teaches environmental stewardship through language. They teach female farmers native literacy classes and also run an after-school English language program for children. They reach hundreds of women and children, yet still struggle to raise the $6.00/month they need to rent their classroom while operating with no computer and only a few books. In addition to his volunteer work, we are exited to announce that we’ve hired Herman to be On The Ground’s Country Director. In the coming months he’ll be traveling our running route and visiting the communities all along the way, helping us prepare for the Run.
As I sit on the plane headed back to my reality, I’m reminded of just how impossible it is it to grasp what people must go through to endure such dark periods of human history. I further remain amazed that it is the ones who have suffered the most that at times seem to have the most energy and enthusiasm for life. Perhaps it’s a place that human nature takes us to survive? It leaves little doubt that it will be people like Herman who will pull the Congo out of the rubble and lift an event like Run Across Congo to unforeseen success. Welcome aboard, Herman.
To support or for more information about the Run Across Congo and our support of woman’s empowerment project there, please visit: www.runacrosscongo.org