In Canada, the "chaos" of our daily lives may lead many of us to feel as though we're hanging on by a thread. It's easy to see that stress in a coffee shop each morning, as people wait in line for the morning jolt that will kick-start them into action for another busy day.
Though navigating crowded malls at back-to-school shopping time and waiting in long lines for coffee may make your head spin, more than 5,000 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) understand true chaos. They fled conflict between the Congolese Army and the M23 rebel group this past May.
Only six months had passed since the last time the M23 rebel group captured the city of Goma, and caused thousands of families to flee. This earlier conflict forced 150,000 people from their homes and separated children from their families. The fighting raged for almost 10 days, with rockets falling in schoolyards.
Now, once again, fearing for their safety, families from the Mutaho village outside Goma had to uproot their lives in search of safety.
In May, more than 5,000 mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters found refuge in a place far from home. Thanks to Canadian program manager Anne-Marie Connor and her team at World Vision DRC, a soccer stadium was used to give people a place to congregate, food and shelter and protection from the fighting. In the stadium, they knew they were not alone. They knew that others would be with them in this state of uncertainty. What couldn't be provided was an explanation of how the fighting would end and how long it would be until they could return home.
Anne-Marie's day started off with quiet reflection. She prayed for the DRC, asking for stability, peace and a chance for the country to move beyond the upheaval of constant war. Then all at once, her day changed. In came a request from the United Nations. World Vision had just 24 hours to plan a safe, orderly food distribution for all 5,000 hungry people Anne-Marie and her staff of 20 immediately jumped into fifth gear. They pulled together all of the paperwork and coordinated all of the organizations and facilities necessary to ensure food could be provided in time.
The food delivered by the UN's World Food Programme included maize, beans and cooking oil. These items are full of fat, protein and carbs and are necessary for basic nutrition. They're also easy to transport and distribute to large groups of people.
Although there were no answers about when the fighting would end, or when they could return home, they knew their families would be fed.
Over the past two months, almost a million people have fled the fighting and are living in makeshift camps in transit centers managed by the International Organization for Migration. Families don't know when or how they'll be able to go home.
But one thing is certain: The World Vision DRC staff is now equipped to do the best job possible for those in need. Thanks to the organizational tools and skills they have acquired from Anne-Marie, they will be able to continue helping long after her time in the DRC has ended and she has returned home to Canada. This, she says, is the most rewarding part of her work.
Canadian aid worker Anne-Marie Connor is leading World Vision's response to the chaos in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
By Kristian Foster
Congo is sub-Saharan Africa's biggest country, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to two-thirds of the way across the continent. It is plagued by a lack of roads and railways. The feeble government in the capital Kinshasa is nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away from Goma, the strategic eastern town that was seized by M23 rebels on Nov. 20. A succession of rebel groups and warlords have for years taken advantage of the power vacuum to get a piece of the mining action in eastern Congo. <em>Caption: An M23 rebel marches towards the town of Sake, 26km west of Goma, as thousands of residents flee fresh fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo town on November 22, 2012. (PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
Eastern Congo is estimated to have mineral deposits worth trillions of dollars, according to mining experts. The area holds about 70 percent of the world's supply of tantalum, a metal used in cellphones, tablets, laptops and other computers, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The eastern region also has massive amounts of gold, tin, tungsten, copper, coltan and cobalt. Much of the ore mined is smuggled out of Congo and passes through Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi, according to the Enough Project, a Washington-based organization campaigning against conflict minerals. Some 450,000 artisanal miners work in eastern Congo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. <em>Caption: A displaced Congolese woman carries her belongings in the grounds of a religious organisation on the outskirts of Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on November 25, 2012. (PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
The M23 rebel group was formed almost eight months ago by former members of a now defunct insurgent group that had been incorporated into the Congolese army as part of a March 23, 2009, peace agreement. The new group was created by the former rebels who deserted from the army. Their name refers to the date of the peace agreement, which M23 accuses the government of not honoring. Since May, M23 has seized territory in North Kivu province, culminating last week with the capture of Goma, a lakeside city of 1 million and a key trading hub bordering Rwanda. <em>Caption: Congolese policeman in riot gear keeps an eye on Goma residents including street children who gathered for an anti Kabila demonstration supported by the M23 rebel movement in Goma, eastern Congo, Wednesday Nov. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)</em>
M23 is believed to have been created by warlord Bosco "The Terminator" Ntaganda, who had been a leader of the former rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP. The CNDP was backed by Rwanda, which also allegedly arms and gives other support to M23. As part of the 2009 agreement, Ntaganda, Ntaganda was made was made a general in the army and deputy commander for an operation meant to go after a militia made of Hutus who took part in Rwanda's genocide. In early 2012, Congolese President Joseph Kabila came under international pressure to arrest Ntaganda and transfer him to the Hague to face war crimes charges in the International Criminal Court. Ntaganda avoided immediate arrest, launched a mutiny and was joined by some loyal men who are believed to have formed M23. Kabila, whose father had led a rebellion in 1997 that toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, had also vowed to dismantle a parallel chain of command that Ntaganda established in eastern Congo's North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. Ntaganda had operated lucrative businesses with other army officers in the east, including a smuggling racket taking minerals into neighboring Rwanda, according to a U.N. report released on Nov. 21. <em>Caption: Displaced Congolese run through a rain storm at Mugunga 3 camp west of Goma , eastern Congo, Monday Nov. 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay )</em>
Rwanda has backed rebels groups in eastern Congo as a defense against other militias of Hutu extremists, many responsible for Rwanda's 1994 genocide, who operate in east Congo. But many analysts also think Rwanda is motivated to support sympathetic power networks in the east so that it can profit from the export of smuggled Congolese minerals. M23's success has been due to direct support from powerful figures in Rwanda and neighboring Uganda, according to U.N. investigators researching the conflict in eastern Congo. The report says that high-ranking Rwandan government and army figures, most notably Defense Minister James Kabarebe and Chief of Defense Staff Charles Kayonga, have supported the M23 by providing recruits, sophisticated arms, ammunition and finances. Rwanda also wants to use M23 as a Tutsi force to counter the Hutu rebels of the FDLR, also operating in eastern Congo, said the U.N. report. The Rwandan government of President Paul Kagame vehemently denies it supports M23. <em>Caption: Congolese government soldiers (FARDC) patrol the streets of Minova under their control, Sunday Nov. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)</em>
Uganda has also supported the M23, although on a smaller scale, said the U.N. report. This has allegedly been driven by a few powerful Ugandans intent on profiteering from access to Congo's rich mineral resources. Uganda denies supporting M23. The rebels feel comfortable in Uganda and can come and go as they wish. Their external relations official is now based in Kampala, Uganda's capital. The U.N. report did not accuse Uganda of orchestrating an official policy of backing the rebels, but it said some within the military were using their influence to procure arms and ammunition for the rebels. The U.N. investigators even claim that units of the Rwandan and Ugandan armies have fought alongside M23 soldiers against the Congolese army. A "mixed brigade" of Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers allegedly numbered more men than the massed ranks of the M23 forces, said the U.N. report. <em>Caption: Congolese flees the eastern Congolese town of Sake , 27kms west of Goma, Friday Nov. 23 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)</em>
The Congolese army – underfed, poorly supplied and rarely paid – have repeatedly retreated in the face of M23 attacks. Even if the rebels withdraw from Goma now, military experts say the well-organized, well-supplied M23 will remain to seize the key city again. U.N. investigators claim that the ultimate goal of M23 and Rwanda is the annexation of the North and South Kivu provinces and the region's mineral wealth. They say the battle for Goma may be just the beginning of a long and bloody conflict for control of eastern Congo. <em>Caption: A man takes part in a demonstration in front of the UN headquarters in Pretoria, on November 27, 2012, against UN peacekeeping troops in Goma not protecting women and children against the M23 rebels. (ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)</em>
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