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This post originally appeared on The Hill's Congress Blog.
Driving from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo, I prepare myself for certain things. I know I will be confronted with extreme poverty. I know I will meet people who are facing hardships that would be unendurable to many. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the incredible beauty of the country.
The DRC has to be one of the most breathtaking countries in the world. But that beauty belies the fact that this country is terribly broken.
I have traveled to the DRC with my Refugees International colleagues to assess the humanitarian situation facing displaced people in South Kivu province. Located in the country’s east, South Kivu has for years been plagued by ongoing violence between various rebel groups and the national army. That fighting has intensified in recent months – forcing more than 100,000 people to flee their homes.
On a visit to the village of Nzibira, I meet Madeleine.
In January, Madeleine’s remote rural village in Shabunda Territory was attacked by members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The story she tells in a strong, impassioned voice is one of unbelievable suffering.
The FDLR rebels entered Madeleine’s village wielding machetes and guns. They went on a rampage. “People were hunted,” Madeleine says. “When I remember, I shake. They just wanted to kill and destroy everything.” The FDLR trapped people in their houses and then set them alight. Madeleine’s brother and all his children were burned to death. Madeleine’s father was also killed.
But that day, Madeleine was one of the luckier ones. She and her children managed to hide from the rebels. They then walked for days to reach Nzibira, where they are staying with one of the village families. Madeleine and her six children all sleep together in a single room. They are cold, and they are hungry.
Sadly, Madeleine’s story is all too familiar in this part of the DRC. Throughout South Kivu, local communities are playing host to those who have been forced to flee more remote areas. These host communities are not rich. Often they do not have enough to share with those they take in. They lack food, proper shelter, and medicine. While some of those we met with had received outside assistance, most had not.
The international community must do more to help this population that is struggling to survive. Unfortunately, the United States government is lagging behind its British and European counterparts when it comes to providing this much needed humanitarian support.
Before our team left Nzibira, Madeleine thanked us, “We’re really happy that people have come to see the problems that we have here.” As an advocacy organization, Refugees International’s role is to take stories like Madeleine’s to the people who have the power to make a difference.
Let’s just hope that they are listening.March 19, 2012 | Tagged as: Africa, DR Congo, Humanitarian Response, Protection & Security, Women & Children