A home that receives no blessing

Shasha camp for internally displaced people in eastern Congo                 

On the shore of Lake Kivu in eastern Congo, it is difficult to miss the blue tarps that cover many of the small temporary huts in the Shasha camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). The tarps are new one-year tarps that MCC has given the 198 families who have called this camp home for the last six years.

Eastern Congo is unstable, perhaps because the government lacks both the will and capacity to control the dozens of armed groups, both Rwandan and Congolese, that have roamed the countryside since the genocide in neighboring Rwanda 20 years ago this month. There are millions of Congolese internally displaced in eastern Congo. A smaller number of Rwandese are also refugees here.

The Shasha camp is much smaller than the other IDP camps nearby. The camp is populated by the Batwa, a Pygmy group, who once lived in the hills about a 15-hour walk from here before they were routed from their homes by one of the armed groups. They have chosen to camp here, rather than in one of the larger camps, because they are regularly discriminated against by other IDPs.  

This is the kind of group MCC works with, MCC service worker Michael Sharp tells me, because MCC is a smaller organization and can see what larger agencies sometimes overlook. We meet with the elders in this camp who thank MCC for providing the tarps and some food and for helping to send their children to school. You are the only ones who have helped us, they tell us.

The men and women we meet in the camp hope that they can one day return to their land, but they know, for the present, the armed groups are still there. Land ownership issues further complicate the picture. Some of their community members felt forced into joining the armed groups to protect the land that was sold out from under them.

The camp elders thank us as we leave, for caring enough to come and see. A home that receives no visitors, receives no blessing, one of the elder tells us. By being with the Batwa community, we are sure we have received a blessing this day. 

Ron Byler is executive Director for Mennonite Central Committee U.S. He was in eastern Congo in late April 2014


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