Stories are the foundation of BridgingPost. They illuminate what we do, where we’ve been and where we might go next. They speak of our work and our lives. In this way, stories share who we are. Stories also help us share about the lives of the people we’ve encountered - those who continue to inspire us to build bridges across cultures and continents. For me, the stories of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo are more than inspirational. Their bravery, resilience and hope are second to none. In the face of atrocities they carry on, fighting for themselves and their families. This is the story of the first group of women I met there.
Imagine if you can, that this is your life...
You are living peacefully in your village with your family and many friends. Sure, you have disagreements yet you love each other and support each other through good times and bad. Everyone has enough to eat and your life feels good. Maybe you long for more but at the same time you are content to be here in this moment.
You hear the sound of the guns before you see anything and you begin to run as fast as you can to find your children and get to some kind of safety. You knew this might happen someday – other villages had reported the violence and destruction but you had hoped in your heart that this would not happen to you. You are running so hard your heart is bursting with adrenaline and with fear for yourself. But mostly because you need to know you children are safe! You run right into the soldiers and before you even have time to take a breath you are forced to the ground and men are pounding themselves on top of you. You scream only to be slapped so hard darkness almost overtakes you – and you wish it would – take you away from the pain, the humiliation, the rage and the absolute terror you feel for your children’s safety. Then they are gone and you are left bleeding inside and out. Maybe you see your children then, watching as the soldiers leave you behind or maybe you never see them again as they too run, scattering to find safety somewhere – anywhere.
Life has its way and you move forward but you feel dead inside. Your whole life is left behind: your family, your friends, your farm, your heart.
Now you find yourself in the city, a place you’ve never even visited. And then there is hope. You are invited to join a project where you will learn to sew. You begin to see the possibility of a future where your children go to school, you all have enough to eat and your family lives in a home that is safe and comfortable. You are grateful beyond your wildest imagination that people you don’t even know have seen it in their hearts to reach out to you in love and compassion. You know that something inside you is beginning to heal and you smile for the first time in a long time.
It’s the smile - a sign of hope in this harrowing tale - that keeps me working with and loving these amazing women. We have built a bridge of caring and gratitude between us and I share this story in hopes that more people will be aware of the situation in DRCongo. And, with that knowledge, they will be compelled to act. Donate to the Tchukudu Womens Training Centre here.
Cathy Cleary founded Bridging Post with her husband Randy Cleary, drawing on her extensive experience in project management and community development.