There are now more than one million people who have fled their homes in North Kivu, and very few are receiving any humanitarian aid. Before last week's fighting, most were getting by through the generosity of neighbors who hosted the displaced in their homes and yards and farms. Now those host families are displaced, too. People are fleeing into forests, to churches, to schools (like the one above.)
Maybe this story will help to convey both the sickening fear people feel and the reason it's so difficult for aid workers to do their work. It's the account of two extraordinary women - Americans - working for the International Rescue Committee in Rutshuru. When I visited Lisa and Jennifer in September, they made me pancakes. Jennifer and I would play Scrabble together whenever she came to Goma. Last week, they were caught in the middle of the fighting. It's not an easy story to read.
Another thought: Journalists and activists write a lot about rape in Congo, frankly, a lot more than they write about the war. I understand why - just before I took this shot of IDPs languishing in a school, I interviewed a man whose thirteen-year-old daughter had been raped by a government soldier the week prior. Immediately after I took the shot, just outside the door of the classroom, three older women approached me who'd been gang raped by Nukunda's rebels a few days before. Stories of sexual abuse in Congo are - very literally - pedestrian. Many of the women who walk by you in a settlement like this have been terrorized by it.
The problem with much of the reporting on sexual violence in Congo - my own included, sometimes - is that it lacks context, often because the context is so complicated that journalists and editors decide to gloss over it.
But it needs to be said over and over: rape in Congo is a direct result of the conflict. Rape cases skyrocket after fighting and near frontlines; when fighting dies down so do the number of rapes. Rape is an epidemic born from violence, not an endemic part of Congolese society. The only way to "Stop Rape" is to end the war. It can only happen in that order.
So what's our role as journalists and as citizens? First we do the work - just like we all did in the beginning of the Iraq war - and try to understand the context.