We have arrived in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the 30th of June is Congolese Independence from Belgium. Although a day normally celebrated, our Congolese colleagues stated there is nothing to celebrate as life has not gotten better in their 51 years of Independence. One colleague said it is a day for politicians, not for the population. This year is an election year in DRC and the general feeling is that the current President, Joseph Kabila, will win the election regardless of the way the population votes – and if the East of the country votes against him, he will initiate violence against the people and blame rebel groups. The area is so fatigued from war and violence, the population seems to have little interest or confidence in leaders to make positive changes. But many Congolese individuals, families and communities are working hard to improve their lives and the lives of their neighbors.
Today, our group, including two Hopkins Nursing students, met with our partner agency, Foundation RamaLevina. We discussed our new PhotoVoice project. Sarah, one of our super undergraduates, received a Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award (PURA) to train nurses, community health workers and women survivors of war-related violence to be photographers. Once trained, they can use their skills to photograph the strengths and challenges in their families and communities, their vision for the future and what they need (education, healthcare, economic support, etc) to help realize their vision for family and community. The women will interpret the images in the photographs they take over several days through small group discussions and individual interviews.
In partnership, we will work with Foundation RamaLevina to use the photos and women’s interpretation to support strengths and work with women and communities to address the challenges by developing strategies and solutions, such as providing a microcredit program, literacy classes, or afterschool activities for youth. All projects will be based on the women’s priorities identified through the images and discussion. This project hopes to give Congolese women a larger voice in their future and the future of the family and community. We will begin PhotoVoice on Tuesday in one rural village in the Walungu Territory working with nurses, community health workers and survivors to develop and implement the project. We hope that with the participants’ permission we will exhibit some selected photographs in DRC and the School of Nursing. We are all excited about this project as it adds another method to support survivors in having their voice heard to end violence and focus on building the future in DRC.