2009 Appeal Letter
Zawadi Nikuze and AGLI Activities in North Kivu, Democratic Republic
Recently the escalating conflict in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC) has hit the headlines. The major city of Goma with perhaps
a million people was almost taken by the rebel warlord, Laurent Nkunda.
He stopped at the outskirts of the city, I think, because if he had taken
the city he would not have had the resources to secure it. When the Congolese
army was trapped in Goma, they looted, raped, and killed the people they
were supposed to protect. The United Nations forces called MONUC did
Zawadi Nikuse is
AGLI’s presence in North Kivu. When the fighting
first erupted, she fled to Kigali and then returned to the small border
town of Gisenyi in Rwanda. Each day she would cross the border in the
morning in order to go to work and each afternoon by four o’clock
she was back at the border to re-enter Rwanda for the night. Her parents
supported her in this daily movement, but as they are older and not in
the best of health, they stayed at home in Goma.
“Zawadi” means “gift” in Swahili and I asked
Zawadi’s father, Jeremy, why he gave her that name. He said that
he and his wife had four children and then unexpectedly a number of years
later had her. She was for them, then, a gift. And truly she has been
a gift to the work in North Kivu. Her most astounding attribute is that
she is completely fluent in Kinyarwandan (the language of Rwanda), Swahili,
French, and English. Frequently at international meetings she is asked
to translate as she moves effortlessly from one language to another.
Zawadi, like most of the people who work for AGLI in Africa, are most
of the people who work for AGLI in Africa is young.
AGLI’s partner in North Kivu is called “Peace Center for
Healing and Reconstruction of Communities” and is an alliance of
the various Quaker programs in the province. Zawadi is the coordinator
of the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities program in North Kivu.
Other programs are Alternatives to Violence, mediation (also supported
in part by AGLI), and change agents for peace (a micro-enterprise program).
These programs work together in four of the IDP camps near Goma. Each
camp has 10,000 to 20,000 people so they are dealing with large numbers.
As we learned in the Kenya relief, you help those that you can since
every little bit helps—people are so appreciative.
The big NGOs, World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services, World Relief,
etc, bring in large quantities of food and other supplies to meet the
needs of the displaced. But they all seem to overlook the psychological
needs of the traumatized people. This is where Zawadi fits in.
me that every day she tries to go to one of the IDP camps and talk
mostly women. They tell her their sad stories. Usually
it is something like a mother has just learned that her son was killed
in the fighting. Or that the woman had been raped and can’t talk
to anyone about it. Zawadi says that she just tries to encourage them,
calling this “accompaniment.” I think that this is very important,
but forgotten, work for those who have been displaced.
In the last month she has organized six of the Healing and Rebuilding
Our Community workshops. The problems here are different than in Rwanda
and Burundi where the conflicts are over and healing can be a linear
upward progress. In the North Kivu IDP camps traumatic experience continue
so that people who are on the road to healing, easily get discouraged
and fall back into their old, negative attitudes.
Zawadi just leave Goma and go to a more peaceful place either inside
the Congo or elsewhere? I think the answer is that North
Kivu is her home, where her parents live and she grew up, that she has
a most supportive group that she is working with at the Peace Center,
that she has direct contact with people outside of North Kivu that encourage
her in her endeavors, and that the people she deals with are most appreciative
of her listening and whatever she can do for them. Zawadi has a very
warm, positive attitude and this is essential in keeping up her spirits
as she does this most difficult work.
AGLI would like to
give Zawadi and the Quaker team there in North Kivu more support. We
would like to have some funds so that women who have
been raped can be tested to see if they are HIV positive. We would like
to have a larger presence in the IDP camps with hiring an assistant for
Zawadi so that she doesn’t have to work alone. We also would like
to do more Healing and Rebuilding Our Community workshops and particularly
regular follow-up days for those who have attended the workshops and
work with children traumatized by the events they are witnessing.
I have enclosed
a description of the very complicated conflict in North Kivu. It was
written by Andrew Peterson, AGLI’s person in Burundi. (Please
click here to read the description)
I hope that you are
able to help Zawadi with this daunting work in North Kivu. Please send
a donation, earmarked for “North Kivu Relief,” in
the enclosed envelope or by going directly to the donate button on the
AGLI webpage, www.aglionline.org.
David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative
Friends Peace Teams