Documentary Photography

Documentary photography is a vital tool to communicate an injustice, a social problem, or other current issues.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Congo's Conflicts, Crisis and Hope

Eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)  has many problems of corruption, lack of education, diseases that are killing people because they can't afford a doctor or hospital, hunger and lack of food is a problem, sexual violence is a weapon of war daily, just to list a few.  Women are not acknowledged as even human beings with feelings, they are used for child bearing, raped daily, and often left to raise the child alone.  Children, women and men are traumatized by these attacks on their homes and villages. Rebels fighting rebels.  My question is, "Who is backing these militia groups with weapons and ammunition?"
Veronica told me her 17 year old son, was forced to watch as she was gang raped by rebels, he has moved to Goma, and it is too painful for him to see his mother as it brings back that horrific day in his life.  This woman's husband abandoned her, as he says, "I can't touch you now after all those men, you may have disease,  you are no longer my wife" he left, never to be seen again.

Many of these men have difficulty preforming sexually after the atrocities they witnessed.
Nuru (which means light) 24 years old was 8 months pregnant, this will be her 4th child.  She's married, but, her husband can't work, he is epileptic. When she was 17 years old 8 Interhamwe came into her home.  They demanded that her own father rape her, he refused.  They told her to lie down, spread her legs and demanded her father to rape her, again her father refused, saying I can't do this, she is my daughter.  He had a knife driven into the side of his body and then his genitals were cut off, by the Interhamwe he bled to death.  Nuru also had a sister, after this disgusting act on inhumane violence, the Intehamwe told her mother to go into the house and cook for them as they were hungry.  The mother told the 2 girls to run as she was cooking.  They didn't get far, there were more Interhamwe. Nuru was raped by 6 men, her sister raped also, how many times we don't know.  Nuru's sister was traumatized by the way her father died and her rape, she died, from starvation, she refused to eat, sleep, or move, she was catatonic from the trauma.
These are just 2 stories that I videoed there are 16 other stories.  7 1/2 hours of video tape. These women want the world to know what has, and is happening in their villages daily.  They live in fear for their children, their husbands and their own lives.  They get no help for hospital treatment, from the government,  after everything they own has been taken from them. There is no trauma centre in their village, they live in a war zone. For their safety I am not putting their faces on this blog.  You can hear their stories from them at a fund raiser to help Women of the Congo.

This is a boy whom I know is in a safe place.  He was taken by rebels into the forest for months, what he saw traumatized him.  This child has seen killings and rapes, over and over and over again. What is his future going to be?  He was quiet, and very fragile, but could become aggressive at any time.
Maybe a Hollywood movie would bring International attention as it did for Rwanda (Hotel Rwanda), Sierra Leone (Blood Diamonds), (but people still buy diamonds, many diamonds, blood diamonds).The freedom of Nelson Mandela was pressure from the media, the UN, peaceful warriors around the world, and several movies helped.  When will the media continue to cover these atrocities in the Congo.  There are good men there, I met some, but I also lost a good friend who knew too much, he was poisoned.
This country is very rich in natural resources, gold, titanium, diamonds, and coltran ( used in all of our cell phones and computers).  The Congolese government controls these mines.  Children are working them, very young and small children as they are able to get into the small caverns where diamonds are.  These children are not going to school and are not getting paid.  Even the men that work these mines don't get paid for months, if they get paid.
If these children do not get an education they will become what they have experienced. War lords, that make a living off children.  Rebels (they have money, clothing, food, weapons, because they attack peoples homes and steal them).   These are the examples set for these innocent children. If they are not educated this vicious cycle will continue and could cause another war.
This is an International Crisis and crimes against humanity.  WE must come together as a global community to put pressure on the government, refuse to buy gold from the Congo and find other suppliers of coltran or these atrocities will continue.  WE must stop this cycle of violence that has been going on for over 20 years in the Congo. Yes the Congo is a huge and beautiful country, but it' people are suffering.  The average income is $150.00 USD a month for a family, this is the class that are educated and have jobs, good jobs.  There is better, and, there is much worse.
I met a few good political leaders, Julien Paluku, Governor of N. Kivu and another person going to run for member of parliment in S. Kivu (who's name I can not mention at this time)  but these 2 men are young and have great hopes for  a new future for Eastern Congo.  They are living dangerously as they want change and education, that many political leaders don't care about. The Mayor of Bukavu a woman is sensitive to the women's plight in her country.  But there are few women in political positions in the DRC only 13% are women.  Can this country be changed and the people live in peace and unity.  It has in Rwanda, so I believe one day at a time one country at a time, but WE must participate in this change, these people desperately need our help and  being in the Congo I know many today have hope, because someone cared enough to come to meet them, hold their hand, listen to their stories, and hug them for their courage and strength.  As these women did not speak only for themselves, they spoke for all women of the DRC.  I promised to be their voice, and I will keep this promise to these incredible women of the Congo.  I hope others reading this and sharing it with friends, families, co workers will also be their voice.  As WE are their hope, for a safer tomorrow.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pygmies of Eastern Congo

The second Congo War, also known as Africa's World War and the Great War of Africa, began in August 1998 in the DRC, and officially ended in July 2003 when the Transitional Democratic Republic of Congo took power (though hostilities continue to this day).  By 2008 the Second Congo War, and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation, making the Second Congo War the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War 11. Millions more were displaced from their homes or sought asylum in neighboring countries. Despite a formal end to the war in July 2003 and an agreement by the former belligerents to create a government of national unity, 1,000 people died daily in 2004 from easily preventable cases of malnutrition and disease.
The Pygmy tribe or Twa, are one of the oldest tribes in Africa.  They have lived a very primitive life in the forest, by hunting animals such as antelopes, pigs and monkeys, fishing, and gathering honey, wild yams, berries and other plants. They ate porcupine which they believe the quills of the porcupine cures all diseases.  For them, the forest is a kindly personal god, who provides for their needs.  They relied on nature for everything, food, shelter, water, and plants for herbal medicine.
 A field of tea leaves to Buyungule Village.
I had the honor of spending time with Chief Ncavuna and his beautiful and graceful wife Antoinette.
The kindness, generosity I received will forever be remembered. They have absolutely nothing and wanted to give me rice. Buyungule Village has 350 pygmies and is at the foothills of a National Park where a group of Interhamwe live.  They live in fear of attacks on a daily basis.
They are being chased out of the forest by Interhamwe, FDLR, Congolese Soldiers, and the Government.  They are given a very small piece of land. Pygmies have seen their rainforest homes threatened by logging, and are driven out by settlers. In some places they have been evicted and their land has been designated as national parks. They are routinely deprived of their rights by governments, which do not see them as equal citizens.
If a Congolese woman works she will get $1.00 USD per day and a Pygmy woman will get 50 cents per day.  The women give birth in their huts.  They are attacked almost every night, raped, their cloths, which are rags are taken, their utensils, everything they own.  They are considered the lowest caste of African tribes.  I have spent many days with the pygmies, small frail, gentle people.  Extreme poverty, in the Congo there is extreme poverty everywhere, but this is pitiful. None of the children I have met have ever been to school, they are completely illiterate, sometimes the Chief may have some writing and reading skills.  

All Pygmy groups have close ties to neighboring farming villagers, and work for them or exchange forest produce for crops and other goods. At its best this is a fair exchange, but it can involve exploitation of the Pygmies, especially where they have lost control of the forest and its resources.
I also met a woman Pygmy Chief Nabuci M'Mudumira. She is the representative in Bukavu, Goma, Rwanda, and Burundi. 
She's a tiny woman that just wants equality, peace and education for her tribe. This doesn't seem like a lot, but here in the Congo it's almost impossible to achieve these basic necessities. These women are strong and very courageous, they have been taken from their habitat in the forest and forced to live a life that is dangerous, violent, and they get no respect or justice, because they are Pygmies.  The discrimination  towards these people is  heartbreaking and cruel.  The Pygmies deserve their human rights too.

Monday, March 8, 2010

International Woman's Day

"Women Are Building Bridges of Peace"
March 8, 2010, is the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day.  I had the honor of photographing and attending the event for Women for Women International. 
The event was in Goma where there is a lot of conflict between rebels, several milita groups.
It began with the March in front of the Military and the Governor of N. Kivu Province.
 His Excellence Governor Julien Paluku
The DRC (Congo) Country Director Christine Karumba and her staff, Gertrude Mudekereza ( one of my dearest friends) , Francine, Huguette, and many others worked day and into the night for weeks to send a strong and powerful message to the world.  The Power of Women creating Peace.
 Christine Karumba
The Congolese women and Women for Women staff, with the Governor of N. Kivu Province Julien Paluku,  met the Rwandan women and Women for Women staff at the border. They each had half a banner that was tied by the Country Director of the DRC Christine Karumba and the Country Director of Rwanda Beera Kabarungi, her staff Peace Ruzage my dearest friend, Monique and many others.  When tied together it read "Women Are Building Bridges of Peace".
The Bridge event is a beginning of building peace between two countries that have had differences in the past, and present.
Women of Congo
Women of Rwanda
  Beera Kabarungi
Governor Julien Paluku even stated that he would elect a woman for the 50th Anniversary of the Independence of the DRC.  He appeared to be joyous and happy to be around incredibly strong and powerful women, with a vision of peace and hope.  He is also well liked by many people.  His smile is genuine and comforting, considering, he's a political leader.  He's young with an open mind for new ideas. 
It was a joyous event and I'm so happy I was there to document  "Women Are Building Bridges of Peace".
Honoratha giving her testimony.
She's an amazing woman whom I love very much.
Her story will come later.
 As a woman I know we are powerful and must empower other women. This was done in Liberia with  Women for Peace a group of women that grew and grew. They were village women and Internally Displaced Women in refugee camps, Christian and Muslim women came together, they knew a bullet didn't know the difference between their religions.  The women went to Ghana by the hundreds and barricaded President Taylor and the Lurd to put down their guns and advocated for Peace.  These women were never radical they just wanted peace for there Country and families.  Children had been taken as soldiers and they opened their hearts and arms to them, knowing some of them had killed their family members, but they knew these children were victims too.  This resulted in the first Democratic election in Liberia and for the first time a Woman President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  It was women standing together, they made history and change in a country that was so corrupt, and violent, the government was merciless in destroying it's people.  Rape was daily, cutting of limbs daily, then looting their homes, even taking their shoes.  This is what is happening in the Congo.  The women must come together and demand peace, be strong and stand in huge numbers, this will create unity, change, and peace.
I'm so grateful that I am a woman, and my hero is my mother Barbara Carr, who has always supported me 100% in whatever I do.  If I die going to the places I choose to go, my family will know I died for peace. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sexual Violence

Sexual Violence -in War or Peace- is a Crime.

Rape committed during war is often systematic and intended to terrorize the population, break up families, destroy communities, and, in some instances, change the ethnic makeup of the next generation. Sometimes it is also used to render women from the targeted community, incapable of bearing more children.

Sexual violence during war creates multi-fold challenges for survivors:

* The shame and stigma of public rape can often force a rape survivor and her family to flee their community, leaving behind land, property, and resources. This often leaves women poorer and more vulnerable to further abuse and in need of financial assistance to get back on their feet.
* These women and their families also face lasting psychological trauma. War typically destroys the very infrastructure needed to help these women, leaving few properly trained counselors and psychologists. Health centers lack resources and skilled personnel.
* They have medical needs, especially for reconstructive surgeries, and may need HIV/AIDS treatment.
* These women want JUSTICE - legal ACTION to ensure that the attackers are caught and punished.

The Congo is the rape capital of the world.  Everyday women are raped, by Interhamwe, and other milita groups, even the Congolese soldiers. Aren't they suppose to be protecting the women?  This is a horrific situation.  I have heard many stories from women, that actually turned my stomach and got me sick.  I didn't think I was going to hear such inhumane, stories of horror.  These are real people and their courage and strength to tell them is astounding.  They want the world to know what has happened to them and their families, and how their rapes have changed their lives.  I videoed many women and their stories and will bring it back to the USA and be their voice, so you can hear it from them to.  These 3 images are 3 of the women I interviewed. I have interviewed 9 women, so far.