Part four of five in our series on learning, travel, and empowerment.
As I walked through the no man's land between Rwanda and the Congo, I knew things were going to change dramatically, but I wasn't sure how. There are few moments in life that are built up over time in your head through so much consideration, worry, excitement and fear all at the same time.
Entering The Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of these for me.
Nearly from the inception of ForgottenSong, I always talked about working in the Congo as one of the ultimate goals, "something we'll do when we've got more experience," yet here I was, only 3 years after leaving Iraq and our first project there. We had started or funded projects in 4 countries, had done research in another half dozen and it had all come down to this moment, walking through no man's land.
Rémy was with me, so I was certainly not alone, but there was still the sense solitude found in not being able to understand a word of what was being spoken. The orderly processes of international travel on the Rwanda side quickly gave way to the haphazard process of Congolese customs. A large woman in a chair pointed a thermometer at my head and waved me through, a man behind metal bars in the customs office stamped my passport and I was free to walk. I looked up and for the first time and took in all in.
South Kivu, The Congo. It is different. But I don't know how. Sometimes a country's feel for me has more to do with its reputation than its actual reality. This is a place that existed in my mind and in books and in news reports and in speeches.
As many of you know by now, Rémy and I were picked up by Thierry and David, two former child soldiers who direct our partnering organization, AJDC. Though we were working to find partners in the Congo for some time, this providential relationship had only started 2 weeks prior. Yet here we were. We met with rebel leaders, the national army and police, former child soldiers and many members of the community. And once again, our hunch was confirmed: Answers to reviving war-torn communities already exist within the communities, they just need people to listen.
ForgottenSong's tagline is a daily reminder of this to us.
Are you listening?
So what is next? We will continue to grow this project in the Congo. Our hope, like David's, is to not stop working until there are no more child soldiers in the Congo. Too big of a goal? Not sure. If someone had told me in 2012 that 3 years later we would have been in the Congo, it would have been challenging to believe, but I'm now wondering what we might be saying a decade from now.
Big things are coming for those here in the US. We are going to be holding our first ever international conference on Youth and Conflict in August of 2017 in Washington, DC.
See more from our series on ForgottenSong's journey to the Congo!