Aid worker's diary: returning to Goma

During the recent conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was evacuated along with other World Vision colleagues to Gisenyi, Rwanda, a town a little more than a mile across the border.

We were later allowed to return to Goma to help civilians who had been displaced. Rebels of the March 23 (M23) movement were in charge of the city, and thousands of people had lost their homes and sense of stability.

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The rebels later retreated from Goma and let the government administration back into the city.

I was devastated by what I found when I returned home — the stories of rape, injuries, assaults, widespread looting, and damage that occurred during the fighting.

In that very short period, everything in Goma turned into a military vehicle — the police and government cars, water trucks, and anything that could be used to transport fighters to different parts of the city.

As a Congolese citizen, I know how long it took the police force to obtain such assets from different donors and aid organizations. These losses make me very sad.

The lives of the poor have gotten worse. Displaced families pour into temporary camps set up around Goma. World Vision and other organizations are working to alleviate their hunger and health problems.

My family, who remained in Goma during the clashes, was finally able to cross the border into Rwanda, which gave me much confidence to know they were out of danger.

They could not bear the fact that I was going back to Goma and surrounding areas during such instability.

They told me not to play the hero.

On the first day of my return, I interviewed a 13-year-old girl who wept. I wept, too. She had lost both parents, and had not had a meal in three days.

We are very busy — trying to meet the needs of thousands of displaced people who live in squalid camps. World Vision has now reached 133,849 people of the 186,000 targeted for food assistance.

Twenty-eight cases of cholera have been reported in the camps west of Goma. World Vision hopes to slow the spread of the disease by providing clean water and improved sanitation facilities.

Spending much time in the camps is risky. I remember the first day of our return to a camp in Sake, fighting broke out and our security personnel ordered us to leave.

I was saddened to leave the camp for this reason — and at the same time, sad to leave behind 140,000 hungry men, women, and children.

Now, whenever I leave my house, I wonder if my city will ever return to peace so that I do not have to fear the night.

What if a new crisis ignites? The M23 rebels are stationed about a mile outside of Goma, and the government is as vulnerable as ever. I worry about the prisoners, including rapists and murderers, who escaped during the fighting. Where did they go? Do they now live near me or my family or my friends?

I keep praying and hoping that something positive will come out of the fragile negotiations going on in Kampala, Uganda, between representatives of the Congolese government and M23. But for now, I have to deal with hearing the sad stories of the displaced and seeing the damage caused to the city and the massive humanitarian needs.

All these make me want to shout at the top of my voice, begging everyone involved in this crisis to stop. We need peace!

The Democratic Republic of Congo has endured violence for over a decade. As violence intensifies, World Vision is working to assist Congolese refugees in Rwanda and Kenya.

Help Congolese refugees by making a one-time donation to provide desperately needed food, healthcare, and supplies to displaced Congolese children and families.

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