The main reason I went to Goma, other than keeping myself legal in Rwanda, was curiosity. It was that draw of danger and the desire to see what oftentimes ends up on the page 16 of the Sunday edition of the local newspaper. This is a place no one from the outside world really seems to care much about. Congo is rich in natural resources; the ones who "care" are the ones who want what Congo has.
Another reason Jock and I went across the border was to visit Nyandwi's sister's school. Nyandwi is a rider for Team Rwanda and his younger sister attends school in Goma. She walks 10k every day to attend the school Nyandwi pays for with his earnings from Team Rwanda. He is trying to help make a difference for his sister. Jock and I were the only Americans crossing the border that morning. I was thankful to be with Nyandwi and his sister and I was anxious to see the school. I then I saw the school.
After riding four mototaxis, sans helmets and any semblance of adherence to safety and traffic rules, we arrived at the school. It was down a horrible, pumice laden side road. The pumice is a reminder of the volcanic eruption seven years ago that took out a runway at the airport, swept through the town and killed dozens. The school was empty because it was Sunday but even a full attendance roster could not hide the horrendous condition of the building and the classrooms. As a stepped into the unlit concrete hall my eyes filled with tears. I looked at Jock and mouthed the words, "THIS is her SCHOOL?" He just turned away. I am sure he was just as shocked. How could this possibly be a school? There is no electricity, water is in a 55 gallon drum, the ceiling is falling in, there are no books, no labs, and no desks....this is not a school! This is her only option at education. She wants to be a doctor. How do you become a doctor without a textbook, any textbook?
I tried not to show how appalled I was with the situation. I did not want Nyandwi and his sister to feel uncomfortable. This is their only choice. It is the best one they can make at this point. Take every student, every teacher, and every principal in Las Vegas who complains about not having enough money to educate and let them spend a day in class in Goma. The pictures I posted on Facebook do not even come close to the reality of that school. The smell, the dust, the complete sense of hopelessness cannot be captured in a photo.
After leaving the school I wandered behind Jock lost in my own sadness. The night before I had complained of the terrible service and the overpriced food at our hotel in Gisenyi, on the Rwandan side of Lake Kivu. How could I? I have NOTHING in this world to EVER complain about.
We spent a couple of hours walking around Goma. It was quiet; few people were out and about. Just UN truck after UN truck rolling down the road. The waste of manpower, money and lives is the United Nations. As they adhere to their mantra of "Don't fire unless fired upon", they are first hand witnesses to the ongoing war in the DRC. They will watch people die and never step in. The UN had front row seats to the Rwandan genocide. The UN in Goma also has prime real estate on the edge of Lake Kivu. Needless to say, I am not impressed with the work of the United Nations.
I have been told by some to be careful what I write, to not let my personal views or my blog become my soapbox. I have been told to make sure I do not write about my experiences without first setting the stage so my opinions are not taken out of context. So before I launch into my next attack on misspent money and lack of REAL help let me set the context. Every day I witness large NGO's (Non-government Organizations) spend money, lots of money. I see the staff of these NGO's driving around in their expensive SUVs all throughout town. When you ask what them what they do, generally you get something like, "I handle logistics and team coordination in the field to assess situations that may be complex and be a potential for significant need in the area." WHAT?
This is my job at Project Rwanda, "I sell bikes to people who need them to transport their goods and grow their businesses in order to increase their income at least threefold." So this is my "context". I do my job with three people in Rwanda and until two weeks ago, no vehicle. I care for every penny entrusted to me by our donors. I make sure we live frugally and conscientiously to be able to get the most amount of bikes in the hands of the poor of Rwanda. Every dime counts.
Walking down another lumpy pumice road towards the beautiful Lake Kivu, we come upon the strangest, most surreal sight I have yet to see in Africa. Row and row of large homes, really large homes, big by American standards large homes are built and being built all the way to the lake. Ironically these are the same homes that will probably end up in the lava river again once the volcano decides to erupt again. All these homes are surrounded by barb wire, surveillance cameras and a breathtaking view of the homeless in wood shacks settled in among the lava. Sadly, many of these homes are owned by NGO's. It is truly sickening. When I said I was sadly speechless in my Facebook status update, this was why. When so many people have so little, and you are the only here to assist, provide and offer hope, how do you truly engage while you maintain your "cushy" western life amongst the people of this ravaged city?
It has been two days since I visited Goma. Today I wanted to go home.