goals and progress

A note about the donation gauge: we update it once every two weeks: mid-month and at the end of the month.

 

Our cause collaborates with three established, accomplished, and accountable overseas organizations 1. a rural nursing school, ITM (Technical Medical Institute of Rwanguba), 2. a medical aid organization, HEAL Africa, and 3.and a university, UCBC (Christian Bilingual University of Congo) to give support to the following:

 

Nursing Students

$ goes to ITM Rwanguba, a rural nursing school producing new medical professionals that will benefit underserved areas.  Ongoing support gives tuition assistance of $50 each to 40 students for a school year ($2000 yearly).

 

Medical Aid

$ goes to HEAL Africa, a medical aid organization serving primarily children with orthopedic needs and women with fistula.  Ongoing support funds head medical technician, Bizimana Sebushari, with $300 per month-($3600 yearly).

 

The above are perennial projects--we aim to renew this support yearly.  We have successfully supported these projects for two years: 20o9 & 2010 in the amounts listed.  We are now raising money to continue in 2012.

 

Teaching Service

$ will go to UCBC to fund volunteer college instructors Rebecca and Jeff Cech for a year of service committed to producing good leadership & problem-solvers in DR Congo.  A year of supporting two volunteers costs $25,000.

 

The above project is a special 0ne-year effort for which we do not anticipate renewing support.  After 2011-2012 goals for the first two projects has been reached, the remainder will go toward this project.  Once the donation gauge lightbulb reaches its full illumination, we are set to go!

Congo Story Podcast Launch!

17 Jan

Check out the first podcast from Congostory.org!  Jeff and Becky Cech talk about the creation of Congostory.org, the Congolese Advocacy Memorial Project (C.A.M.P.) Fund and the upcoming Heart for Congo fundraiser.

Episode: 

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Donate!


All donations made through the Paypal link (on the right, under the light bulb) will go directly to the FCMC Foundation, earmarked for the C.A.M.P. Fund.

If you would prefer to send a check, please make it payable to the FCMC Foundation and mail it to:

FCMC Foundation
C.A.M.P. Fund
214 Peach Orchard Road
McConnellsburg, PA 17233

To set up a regular gift, or for any questions pertaining to tax letters or other nonprofit documentation, please contact the executive director at the foundation:

Robert Roush
Phone: 717-485-6842
Fax: 717-485-6105
E-mail: rroush@fcmcpa.org

Thank you so much for your support!

Podcast Episode 2 - Martin Dawes

23 Jan

Jeff talks with UNICEF Communications Expert, Martin Dawes about the role communications and journalism play in solving the issues faced by the Congolese people.

Episode: 

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Hang in there, Congo!

24 Jan

In the primitive age, when computers had two-tone screens and all the functionality of a non-portable calculator, we enjoyed something called posters.  If this 80's "hang in there kitty" icon has never crossed your path with its awwwww-inspiring image of imperiled kittenhood, that’s because, in the age of lolcats, it’s a dinosaur.

For the average American internetter nowadays, 8-year-old girl or otherwise, this piece of popular art falls flat.  Compared YouTube’s stream of baby animal bumblings, this appears archaic, and it's not just the cuteness index, but the message that's extinct.  The slogan strikes those of us with the last twenty years of history under our belts as naive.  Sure, stubbornness is powerful.  But is it effective? 

Can sheer determination bend the laws of physics?

Can hope keep disaster at bay? 

No such luck: whatever your attitude, gravity works the same way every time.  This modern, tongue-in-cheek remake of the vintage poster illustrates that point.  It suggests that sometimes giving up is not only a viable but a smarter alternative to “hanging in there”, and it’s easy to see why this message would appeal to an audience familiar with reality tv and its hoard of aspiring glitterati.  There is no shortage of people determined to catapult to stardom on shows like America’s Got Talent who, coincidentally, can’t carry a simple tune in a giant sack.  Convinced they musn’t under any circumstances accept the consistent feedback of millions of viewers, such people have introduced us to a brand of stick-to-it-iveness that's completely indistinguishable from delusion.  And so, when a toneless wonder publically gives up on the idea of getting paid to sing, it elicits a collective sigh of relief: we have confirmation that one more person has gained a toehold on reality.  Yes, American audiences are well-exposed to the dramatic difference between "I'll give it my absolute best" and "Nothing, not even the laws of science, can tell me the natural limits what I can and can't do!"  We know that one attitude makes you look like a person with courage and that the other makes you look downright buffoonish.

The fact is this: the modern poster contains some sound advice— that our choices must be at least as smart as our grip is tight; but, it also presumes that we have a lot of choices.  The fact that "Give up, already!" speaks to us so loudly says more about middle-class American culture than it does about the general soundness of the "Hang in there!" philosophy.  It says: we are privileged.  The option to give up comes with having a series of safety nets and an abundance of alternatives.  But what if the consequences of letting go promised more than a dent in the derriere or a character-building reality check?  What if the stakes were as high as they get for an individual?

Consider this Congolese version of “hang in there,” also iconic in the 80s, but with a few important differences. Unlike the kitten's scenario, this man has something worse than a goose down pillow, a ladder full of firemen, or a swollen buttock in his future.  The scenario frankly admits that there’s little possibility for a good outcome.  Instead of a coy and cheerful "uh-oh," this image says "Hey, look at it this way: you’re not dead… yet," which is a pretty modest form of encouragement, if you ask me.   These both have the same basic message: "don't give up!", but the differences are more telling than the similarities.  Perhaps the most important one is that the Congolese painting is part of a story, with a main character, a conflict,  and a resolution, as you'll see. 

When I asked our Congolese friend, Bizi, to describe this story to me, he wrote me the following:

"The story is about the man who was cutting the tree. To his surprise the lion came, so he decided to climb the tree.  Getting on top, he saw a snake.  Then the snake was coming toward him, so he thought of jumping in the lake, but the crocodile was there waiting for him, so he stayed in difficulties…”

  

In fact, research reveals that the painting is called “the difficulties of life” in the art world, and it’s a nationwide Congolese staple.  You can see this scene painted in a lot of different styles, but always with these same elements and characters—always telling the same, recognizable tale.  It’s been done by very famous Congolese artists from the Western region, like Ndabagera, whose copy I have playfully defaced with commentary above, or by less-well-known artists, like Materesi, the local  artist in the rural area of Eastern Congo where I grew up, pictured working here in the late 80s.

It’s no wonder to me that this story resonates with the Congolese. It paints a good summary of how ordinary folk in Congo have been experiencing its turbulent history over the last hundred years or so:

Things are everyday. You have chores to do, and you need to provide for your family in a place where routine needs like energy for cooking are not convenient. You're eking out a living through hard work when, suddenly, just as you're making progress, things go from routine to emergency.  Despite your best efforts to cope, you’re rendered helpless as things go from bad to worse...

Here is a glimpse into everyday life in Congo in 1989, with the “difficulties” painting hanging in the background.  My dad (behind the camera) is sharing a meal with friends at a time of peace and relative security, and, like many gatherings of this kind all over the world, close friends are eating, drinking sodas, and generally enjoying each other’s company.  Shortly after this photo was taken, in 1989, the political climate worsened.  By 1990 my family was one of two white families left in the whole region, both from generations of living in the Congo familiar with such political trouble.  My father was the second generation raised in Congo, and the third to work there as an adult; he was evacuated 16 times as a child during independence in 1960 and was, as a result of long experience, almost unflappable; after a year of working to see if things would get better, however, the situation reached a crisis, we were personally threatened, and our family relocated to the US.

Why didn’t we just “hang in there” and hope things would get better?  Because we had the luxury of a guaranteed safety net: America.   We could afford to let go.  Privilege allowed us the choice and the means to return to a place of peace and prosperity when we had fair warning that things would turn dangerous—an option our Congolese friends did not have.  Over those next years, the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide spilled over into the Congo and repeatedly put our friends at personal risk; most of our friends survived, but we know others who died.  From a safe distance, we sent support and shared in their hope as they faced the trouble.  It was humbling to see the gritty patience and  humor of friends who were vulnerable at that time.

Sometimes fighting the inevitable is like staggering around in a minefield with fifty pound boots.  As the cynical and practical lolcats suggest, sometimes it’s wise to accept your limits, cut and run.  But, especially in times of crisis, when your options are limited, fighting big odds means strategically using tenacity and pure “hanging in there” to come out on top, in the style of Muhammed Ali in his famous 1974 boxing tournament in Congo, Rumble in the Jungle.  Knowing he was outmatched in raw power, he was close to losing for a majority of the fight  His strategy was to remain tenacious and spring-loaded for an opportunity as soon as it appeared; ultimately, as we know, using this "rope-a-dope" technique, Ali emerged victorious.  The Congolese know all too well that sometimes “hanging in there” is not idle hopemongering, but hope-a-dope—doing your best because with everything you have available to you, and waiting to see if things will get better--because the stakes of giving up are too high to do otherwise.

This photo, taken in 2009, shows a gathering with the same friends pictured above in 1989; here Lawi’s daughter entertains us by giving a traditional dance in front of the very same paintings as those shown in the previous photo, only a bit shabbier with age, having made it through nearly twenty years and several wars.  Instead of the peak of crisis, we see the second painting in the series, the resolution, described here in Bizi’s words:

“…By God's grace the wind came and as the tree fell down the crocodile ran back to the water and the tree fell on the lion which died and the snake died, too, from falling, but the man was rescued. So that was God's intervention.  In difficult moments where there is no hope God comes; the thing is to trust in him."

Many Congolese, like Bizi, understand this as a religious metaphor for faith, but the story has a very powerful application to the Congolese’s everyday reality, any way you look at it.  Sometimes you must believe that, against all odds, things do get better: do your best, and wait and see.  Things have gotten better in Congo; there are many promising developments and there's more normalcy, but, especially in the East, it's far from peaceful.  For instance, in 2010, Lawis family was faced with tragedy when, at the height of their older daughter’s happiness in recent marriage, her husband was murdered by the side of the road by bandits who wanted his motorcycle.  With the continued instability in Eastern Congo, people with guns and malintent are still relatively free to prey on ordinary folk, and take away any progress, advantage, or means they've earned.  Many advocates or protectors of the people aren't strong enough to prevent these crimes, and legal institutions aren't strong enough to bring criminals to justice.  Yet--and this is the startling thing--most of my Congolese friends continue to "hang in there," hoping, and doing everything in their power to see things improve.  They are loving their families and friends, working hard, and living with tenacious expectation for something better.  That deserves not only respect and admiration, but reinforcement and encouragement.

The Congolese need a chorus of "Hang in theres" from us.  And, if millions can spend a dollar to send a text and vote for favorite singers in a reality tv trial, I hope we can also find even small means to invest in good and talented people outside of entertainment, where the stakes are higher, the challenges are tough, and where our encouragement is needed in very tangible ways.  Please consider giving to the Congolese as an act of "voting" for those who  continue doggedly and against all feedback saying they can't to "follow their dreams" of peace.  I am asking you to do the opposite of celebrating a reality-check.  It's not the Congolese's attitudes that need to change to correspond to reality--it's reality that needs to change. When you give to our cause, you support people  committed to strengthening community and working to make peace and justice in DRC the norm.  Institutions like our affiliates Heal Africa and UCBC are poised to help change perilous forms of "hanging in there" into good, everyday resolutions and outcomes.

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All donations on the Congostory website go directly to the 5013c nonprofit CAMP Fund.  This fund not only helps support the ranks of care-givers and problem-solvers in DRC, but it helps us continue to bring you good information and good stories. We exist not just because we have something to give Congo, and not just because the Congolese need our support, but because they deserve peace, and they have lots to teach us about how we can help if we listen carefully and ask good questions.

HeART For Congo

29 Jan

On January 29th we held an art auction and cultural event in Pittsburgh to help raise money for the CAMP Fund teaching service project.   Because of generous sponsorships and artist donations, we were able to raise $3050!  This means that we've now passed the halfway mark of $15,000--a watershed accomplishment for the CAMP Fund!

Due to its success, we are growing Heart for Congo into more than just a one-time event.  Next week we will lauch our online shop as a Heart for Congo hub--a new way to show your support for our cause by purchasing donated art on the site.  All proceeds, of course, go directly to the CAMP Fund.  Pick up is free for anyone in the Pittsburgh or Fulton County area.

For those of you who weren't able to physically attend our Heart for Congo event, we invite you to participate in a kind of "virtual attendance" below, by watching video of the WACONGO Dance Company's stirring performance and browsing an album of photos.

VIDEO (COURTESY GERARD PRODUCTIONS)

Everyone agrees that the liveliest part of the evening came with the arrival of Pittsburgh's Congolese Band, the WACONGO Dance Company, who not only performed brilliantly, but also, in Anicet's words "pulled volunteers"; this means  they used a little friendly Congolese coercion to get all the attendees grooving and joining the dancers.   Below we've posted one of six parts you can find on Congo Story's Youtube Channel if you want to see the full performance.

PHOTOS (COURTESY Jae Ruberto)

Click Heart for Congo 2011  to enter a flickr gallery of the event.  Also, check out our special contributors page to see the artists and businesses who so generously made this event possible!

Enjoy!

Darkest: Africa

31 Jan

The image many Americans have of Africa resembles the word map you see here—a loose gathering of ideas associating the whole continent with every imaginable negative force or condition.  I pulled this image from a website that makes free art available to nonprofit causes; presumably this has been designed as a basic message for bringing people’s attention to the severity of various issues in Africa.  This is a troubling image and a dissatisfactory call to action for a couple of reasons:

While the image may be arresting, it doesn’t help you understand what’s important for taking appropriate action.  It’s overwhelming and uninformative—the worst combination for inviting people to take a thoughtful interest in any effort or cause. 

Africa is a huge, diverse continent.  The histories, cultures, languages, etc. of Nigeria or South Africa are quite different from those in DR Congo,  and the needs of each particular place reflects these differences.  Imagine what the USA would look like if its worst problems were represented in the same format. Things like greed, pain, alone, and debt can characterize our place, as they can  describe anywhere humans live.  In America we can take out dictatorship and child soldiers but insert serial killers, child pornography, floods, and terrorist threats.  Would this be an accurate depiction of American needs and American people?

Hardly. 

We are bombarded with messages that dehumanize Africans by turning them into flat symbols of suffering.  Looking at the word map, it’s impossible to imagine everyday folk in Africa who are making a living by working, raising families and participating actively in their communities.  Unfortunately, this is consistent with the last 120 years of representation for the continent, and especially for Congo: there is almost no sense that Africans play roles other than victim or aggressor, and the old, tenacious stereotype of “darkest Africa” paints it as a lawless, primitive, threatening, and mysterious place, “where terror and adventure meet.” 

Many of you may know that Congo is the subject for the most famous literary example of this: Heart of Darkness.  The stereotypes in that book, in fact, look a lot like the word map above.   It's strange to think that seeing the Congolese as victims was acceptable across a wide range of purposes, both those who were invested in improvement, and those who were at the source of it suffering.  The Belgian King Leopold capitalized on  image of the Congolese as being "in need of help" back in the late 1800s when he wanted to colonize the area.  He used the language of charity to make his idea popular in the West.  In fact, you can see his idea in the first flag of the Congo—the “Congo Free State”—with its star in a dark blue background, because which was meant to symbolize his role as “bringing light to the darkness.”  This idea floated because a conventionally-accepted attitude at the time held that Africans had to be saved from each other and themselves though the force of law and imposed measures of western civilization; publically, he capitalized on this racial dynamic and played the part of the Western savior—a man who wanted to help “free” the Congolese from local slave-trading and the bad Arabs, who he claimed were the aggressors in this story. 

The Western world was completely taken in by this rhetoric, and the USA was the first country to officially recognize King Leopold’s flag, confirming the legitimacy of his rule over Congo—a fact that Mark Twain would later publically mourn and use as a call to action for American citizens during the  egregious misrule that followed.  Twain appealed not only to people’s sense of responsibility but their capacity for empathy with the Congolese who suffered under this rule.  He said that American citizens should help end the injustice in Congo, not only because of the USA's part in helping create its political situation, but because the “horseless carriage and the telegraph” has made the whole world neighbors.  Despite the fact that  this advice is 100 years old, his reason why people should look at the crisis and invest in a solution remains relevant to the current situation because of the double-edge of technology.

The role that technology plays in the relationship between American consumerism and Congolese exploitation of labor proves consistent over time.  Twain was using the horseless carriage as a reason for Americans to see people far away as “closer to home”; meanwhile the market for motorcars was actually incentivizing atrocity in Congo, because King Leopold profited most from conscripting labor to extract the Congo’s natural rubber resources during the rubber boom, when Ford started making cars at factory speed.  Ultimately, technology both helped to fuel Leopold’s exploitation and end it.  When photography became affordable and portable, new, self-appointed “neighbors” to Congo brought back pictures of his cruelty and made them public.  What undermined the legitimacy of King Leopold’s story,  in which he was the savior of Congo’s people?  This combination: photos and testimony of Congolese who experienced the cruelty, missionaries who saw this first-hand, and American and European visitors dedicated to informing their public about the situation in Congo.  Ultimately, with good, reliable information at hand, folk like you rallied to raise the public outcry that led to new legislation and changed the nature of what was happening in the Congo for the better. 

The difference now is that, instead of rubber, we’re dealing with "conflict minerals"—materials needed for every memory chip that goes into cell phones and laptops.  This means that the money we spend to make our everyday lives easier here in the US automatically translates into making the everyday lives of the Congolese harder, as the political cartoon  lampooning multinational business tycoons makes plain.  Merely by having such big spending power, and a technology-dependent lifestyle, we create a demand that rewards rebels in Congo for warring over its mineral-rich territories; those profiting from this system benefit from weak government and weak community leadership, because this allows them to do as they please.

This creates a destructive pattern that we're a part of: with our electronic purchases we unknowingly and unwillingly put money in the pockets of criminals, baddies, neer-do-wells and opportunists, giving them power to do damage and keep control of unprotected areas so they can continue their exploitation.  We, like the Americans in Twain’s day, automatically have a negative footprint in Congo, and there is a sinister correlation between our everyday purchases and the continued instability that taxes ordinary people in Congo, leading to hard lives and many deaths.

My point here isn't merely to explain what a negative impact we have on the DR Congo, or to mourn our long and fraught connection to it, but to show you that we're already involved, whether we like it or not; luckily, because of technology, and our relatively widespread access to it, we can claim and help define a better relationship to Congo than the one we've already got.  We have a lot more ability to do good at the touch of a button than most of us realize.  Perhaps it is because we're busy and distracted.  It's easy to take a narrow focus as we speed through our daily schedules.  We tend to forget our privilege when we turn on the porch light, walk down well-lit streets, and flip a switch to turn on any one of many appliances and pieces of technology we rely on for daily use.  Taking a moment to reflect is important.  The next time you hear a story that reminds you of “darkest Africa” I hope you will think of this image, which shows how the metaphor is actually better suited as a literal explanation for the problem.... Darkest: Africa.

      

The problem is not the attitudes or natural inclinations of Africans or the Congolese: the problem is the uneven worldwide distribution of power.  This satellite photo of the world at night is a dramatic visual representation of how the “heart of darkness” is just that: the place where power is not widely-distributed.  Meanwhile, the US is a beacon of light... or the place where power is wide-spread.  When we lived with Bizi in 2009, I remember the struggles he was going through to get consistent electricity in his neighborhood.  Nowhere in the whole city of Goma had access to electricity for more than a few hours a day, at best.  We  usually used a generator at night until the fuel ran out or its carbeurator clogged.  Then we used a lantern or went to bed.  Bizi later told me that, after more than a year of negotiations, neighborhood meetings, delays, and hassle, he was making some progress on "the electrification of our avenue."  Next time you flip on a house light, or walk down a well-lit street, think about Bizi and what we can take for granted just by living anywhere in the US.

It's a powerful thing to recognize our privilege, work to understand how our everyday actions are affecting others, and to take small and immediate measures of responsibility to shift the balance toward justice and fairness.  If the Kodak was capable of helping inform a public to take action and end impunity, think of what the internet can do to bring good information to people with the power to help. With our technologically-savvy and -saturated lives, we have in our hands the tools that can help us easily cross the divide of distance and change the nature of our footprint in Congo.  While we don't, as individuals, choose the system that rewards people viciously pursuing profit at the expense of human lives, we CAN, as individuals, choose to empower people in the Congo who are committed to doing good for others, and who are positioned to break cycles of violence and corruption, and to change the course of things by creating good community leadership and good government.  Congo Story and the CAMP Fund specifically aims to put more power where it belongs: into the hands of honest folk who work wisely, productively, and for the good of many by problem-solving and giving care to their fellow Congolese.  If you benefit personally from using technology with memory chips, please consider getting involved and sharing some of those personal benefits with the Congolese.  Imagine the impact if everyone who had a phone or computer donated even $10 toward empowering Congolese who are working to make things safer, healthier, and better for many.

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I encourage you to learn more about conflict minerals, the challenges facing the Congolese, and what you can do to help from an activist's perspective by visiting Friends of Congo.