Day 15 – Enemies Are Friends

cu-conf1-edit

 

We woke up this morning to really dark clouds and a genuine threat of rain.  Only seconds after everyone entered the main tent, the showers came down.  The cool temperature and tropical feel made for a refreshing environment to begin our morning session.  After several opening songs, a well-known professor, Vianney Bisimwa addressed the students.  He briefly spoke about how to develop your skills and the importance of having the will and commitment to use them for good.  He then transitioned into a discussion of the students dreams for Congo and the challenges they face.  Everyone agreed that uncertainty, hopelessness and lack of commitment would keep them from the future of opportunity they desired.  Digging deeper, one student remarked, “I think it comes from people taking what is theirs. People only live in the moment and don’t think about tomorrow.” His comment made sense in a culture that has suffered so much upheaval and war.

 

Minutes after the program ended, the rain stopped and stayed away the entire day.  The students broke out into their small groups (a blending of all the provinces) and did a timeline exercise.  This timeline had all the major dates where war broke out in Congo over the past 50 years.  They discussed what the patterns were they saw and why history kept repeating itself.  They talked about what would need to be different to change the pattern.  Finally, a conversation was had about what it would look like to have clubs in their villages where they could be leaders among other young people their own age.  Their purpose would be to help teach the principles on peace and reconciliation that they are learning at the conference this week.

 

The afternoon was spent playing sports and having team building exercises.  What was fun to witness is these former “enemies/strangers” are now friends and the ones they got to battle with as they strive to win the game.  We shot a lot of video of all of these moments, held interviews and capture high quality “B-roll” of scenes.

 


Thanks for your support and continued prayer. 
You are a blessing.

 

====================================

Thanks for your support!  If you are looking for other ways to support our project, feel free to visit  http://grouprev.com/congounitesproduction.

 

Day 14 – The Conference Begins!

conference

 

Have you ever sat with friends and dreamed together?  Twelve months ago I was in Nairobi, Kenya and had a very inspiring conversation.  Doug, Prashan, Camille, Esther and I discussed the idea of holding a reconciliation conference in Congo in July of 2014.  At the time, it seemed impossible to actually pull off.

 

Fast forward to today:  The Congo Unites Conference became a reality!  Today the students arrived.  Some have come a long way. One bus arrived after a 5 day journey that included their bus breaking down.  Some delegates experienced gun fire in a town they drove through.  Another group traveled by boat.  They arrived hungry, not having eaten in 2 days.  We have just over 200 teens participating (drawn from 800 applicants).  All 11 provinces are represented, which is a major accomplishment. The gathering is taking place at a Catholic Retreat Center right on Lake Kivo.  The center is still within the Goma township, yet it is set apart from the hustle and crowdedness of the city.

 

Once the students arrived, they checked in and were assigned a room.  Each student was placed on a team, made up of members from different tribes.  Right off the bat, their team was made up of students that are from different regions and tribes.  In the evening we gathered for an opening program.  It was awesome!  Pop star Kedash performed, stirring the crowd up with songs they all knew.  They energy was electric and the dancing, impressive.  We couldn’t be happier on how the opening night went.

 

Tomorrow will be interesting.  We will have two teams filming throughout the week.  Randy and Jock will pair up and I will work alongside Erick, a friend of ours from Kenya.  A translator will be alongside us at all times so we don’t miss anything that is being shared.  The students will participate in interactive, team building exercises and begin to look at the history of Congo, unpacking the conflict they have grown up in.  As happy as many students are, some are quite reluctant.  A fight almost broke out early on in the day and had to be broken up.  We are really hoping to capture stories of kids that are wrestling with being there in the first place.

 

Please continue to pray for us.  More tomorrow.

-Mike

 

Thanks for your support!  If you are looking for other ways to support our project, feel free to visit  http://grouprev.com/congounitesproduction.

 

 

Days 10-12 – What is this project again??

Hello All,

 

Even though there haven’t been as many updates here in the last few days, we have been very busy.  One of our producers (Doug) is back in Southern California and our other producer (Mike) is now on the ground in Goma joining Randy and Jock.Randy and Jock have had a busy few days embedded with the UN, interviewing students and families, among other things.So we wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for your continued support while at the same time give you an opportunity to support this trip directly.  So, stepping back, here is a refresher on our project and ways that you can get involved.

cu-training-edit

(Volunteer leaders in training for Future Leaders Conference) 

 

The Congo Unites Film Project

 

For the past six months, Prashan De Visser (Founder Sri Lanka Unites & Global Unites) Camille and Esther Ntoto (Africa New Day) have been preparing to host the Future Leaders conference in Goma, Congo.

 

The vision for the conference is 

 

“To unite the youth of all tribal and religious groups across Congo, in a movement which provides hope and promotes reconciliation, creating a peaceful and prosperous nation for future generations. To transform the youth of Congo into people who have hope for their future and their country; who are proactive in working for the positive development of Congo. To create a united Congo where young people are intentional about working together with members of different tribes, religions and classes for the sustainable development of our beautiful nation.”

 

Tomorrow, approximately 160 Congolese teenagers from all 11 provinces of Congo will gather for the 5 day conference.  Our film crew is ready to capture the stories and meaningful moments that take place.  We will continue to blog throughout the conference. It is important to us that you are engaged, in real time, with what is taking place.

 

Close to our fundraising goal!

 

We began fundraising for this project 9 months ago.  To date, we have raised just over one-third of our budget!  We continue to operate in the black thanks to the generous financial gifts of our friends and from the grants we have received.  This is our second of three trips.  Our current goal is to raise $6,000 to cover our in-country expenses.  Would you please consider making a tax deductible donation to help support us?   To make a donation, please visit our giving page at http://grouprev.com/congounitesproduction.

 

Thanks for being on the journey with us and thanks for making a difference!

 

Mike Kenyon and Doug Moss

 

Producers Congo Unites Film Project

 

Days 8-9 – Wow! – Thoughts from Jock

More thoughts from our Director of Photography, Jock…

 

Just got back from a two day trip “off the grid.”  We got in our vehicle at 6:30am on Saturday to meet with a group of female reporters who were heading to the same COB (a camp the the UN has set up to house FDLR (rebels that are still fighting) that turn in their weapons). They showed up in their Land Cruiser, we had ours (each with our respective fixers) and we met up with our UN escort. We had found out earlier that the IN gives roads one of three different distinctions: green, yellow or red. In Goma was green. Outside Goma toward where we were going was yellow, and the last half of our journey was red. Green is fine to travel on your own, yellow is with UN escort and red is with armed UN escort in front and behind in a convoy. The red areas are where there has been fighting and apparently there is added danger for Muzungu (white people). When you come up to villagers on your journey, they are generally happy to see you. It kinda feels like you are celebrity. But, apparently there are some that have ties to rebel forces that call ahead, letting them know you are coming and then they ambush you. This is why we have two vehicles on each end of the convoy with plenty if troops and machine guns, in addition to the bigger guns mounted on the vehicles. Needless to say, we felt pretty safe. The drive was like no other. The Yellow road portion (3 hour long) was like no drive I have ever been on. Crazy bumpy pot hole abound dirt roads, but at a 30-40 mph clip. A road that a person would normally find difficult to maintain at 10 mph, and still have respect for the vehicle, we were taking at crazy speeds. These roads were either through small villages (people walking all over, or through mountainous windy terrain, it didn’t matter, we would always be at a clip that we felt “are you kidding?” We had asked about the spare tire which we found out was mounted to the roof.  When we got out to look at it, there was so little tread on it. Then we made the mistake of looking at the four tires we were riding on, and they were worse. It was hard not to imagine us going over a cliff or taking out a couple of kids after a blow out. Thankfully, my imagination never became reality and we make the entire 14 hours of driving with no mechanical incident, other than a broken side view mirror and my window becoming inoperable.

 

jock-n-kids-edit

 

OK. Enough about the drive. The terrain of this journey was a lot more like I originally expected to see before I came to Africa. We drove through the brush filled plains, though the lush river lined tertian and throughout the lush jungle. It was awesome.  Except that we had no air conditioner and the cars in front kicked up tons of dirt, and with out windows open, we were covered. OK. I swear I won’t mention the driving conditions again.

 

A seven hour drive has a lot to mention so I will jump to our arrival in Kanyabayonga.  This is an amazing town/village amidst taro cotta colored hillsides.  This town still is very impoverished in my US eyes, but that doesn’t mean it can not be beautiful.

 

We went to the UN camp where the rebels are being held and it was a very odd situation. The camp is run very well and the FDLR soldiers and their families are taken good care of with food, shelter, bathrooms, etc. Often, the conditions they are in are better than the ones they left. When we arrived, the UN commander in charge of the base introduced us to the major of the FDRC that is in charge of his troops in the base.  Yes, we were just as confused at that as you might be reading this. The combatants that are in the camp having layed down their weapons are still organized from within the camp. And, to make matters worse, the major gets to leave the camp to go back in the jungle and meet with his superiors to let them know how it is going inside. Crazy. So when we get there the rebels are all lined up in formation at the command of their general. Then we are given permission to talk to them yet they can not speak about key aspects that we are most concerned about. And when we do question them, one of their commanding officer is standing over our shoulder, so they won’t dare sleek freely. It was such an odd show. And these were some of the men that were a part of the Rwandan genocide and they would not sleek of their involvement or what they had witnessed.  A fabulous experience but so guarded by the rebels themselves. So the UN gave them 6 months for the FDLR to turn in there weapons and themselves. We are 3 months into that. If they don’t do so, the UN will take aggression like they did with the M23 in Goma the end of last year (the only time the UN has had a peace making mission as apposed to peace keeping).  After the three months and assuming they disarm, they will then be transported and transfered to the Congolese government who will set up camps for them. Once there, they will sift through who is who, what country they really belong to and go from there.  Right now, Rwanda doesn’t want these people they label as Genosiders so they have to try and get them to take them, and not kill them. As an aside, right now the US just agreed to take in 30,000+ Congolese from a Tanzanian Camp that were not allowed back to their villages.

 

Enough confusing East Africa conflict for the night. For those of you still reading, Randy and I have risen to the ranks of Roughing It. We opted against the $5 hotel room and went with the $15 one that had a bathroom. Of course, that meant a shower, toilet and sink but with no running water.  We did get one bucket of water to use for all three utilities, though.  We opted out of all meals on this two day trip and went with granola bars and trail mix.

 

jock-n-elephant-edit

 

On the ride back we apparently had a journey that everyone is telling us is unheard of. We saw Baboons close up, Antelope about 50 ft away, giraffes in the distance, and African Elephants close enough to touch. We had not expected a safari, but somehow got one. It made for a remarkable journey within a journey.

 

-Jock

Day 7 – UN-productive?

Well today there was a lot of activity – but felt a little unproductive in terms of actual filming.  We ended up with just one interview (it was a good one) and were only able to catch a few minutes of the Congo Unites volunteer training going on at the Africa New Day center.

 

So why so unproductive and why the play on words in the post title?  We spent the majority of our day today at the UN Operations here in Goma.  The mission is called MONUSCO and has been an integral part of the process of moving towards peace in this region.  From the beginnings of our research for this film we have always had a hope that we could somehow get in to see the UN, talk with them, even maybe embed with some of the troops, go out on patrols, maybe fly in a UN helicopter and get some great aerial shots of the vastness of DRC.  Well, that was our mission today.

 

In order for these things to happen you have to get an appointment with the man in charge of MONUSCO operations in Eastern Congo.  However, in order to get a meeting with him there are many pieces of certification and paperwork that is needed.  Once the paperwork is ready, then you can meet with the head of Media Logistics and Relations.  We have worked with a team of folks on the ground over the past few weeks to get as much of the paperwork done ahead of time that is possible.  One more stop on the ground when we arrived in Goma at Eastern Congo’s version of the CIA and we had all of our paperwork ready.  So, we got our first meeting with William, the head of Media Logistics and Relations for MONUSCO.

 

The team was definitely not sure what to expect at this first meeting.  But I don’t think any of us thought that William would be a believer and that we would spend close to 90 minutes together getting an insiders view of the UN and specifically the MONUSCO mission from a believers point of view.  William has a small group within the UN that meets regularly for bible study and prayer and that group has been praying for over a decade for peace in DRC.  So, we come in and tell him that we are here to cover a peace and reconciliation conference that is being put together by several faith-based groups – he was excited.  He usually works with CNN, BBC, Al Jazerra, etc. – but he was thrilled to help us.  But, it won’t be easy – we have very little time and many logistical and political hoops to jump through.

 

So – our first stop on our tour of the inner workings of the MONUSCO political machine was with the head honcho.  We had an hour interview with Abdallah Wafy, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General in charge of Rule of Law/Operations in Eastern Congo (that is a mouthful and barely fits on his business card).   Meeting with Mr. Wafy was tricky because his schedule for the day was already full, actually over-booked.  But our new friend William was able to get us a meeting from 12-1pm.  We had been waiting around for almost two hours to find out if this meeting could happen and all of the sudden at a couple minutes before 12, we were wisked away to another part of the MONUSCO compound to interview Mr. Wafy.

 

un-interview-edit

(Left to Right: Our new friend William, Jock, Randy & Mr. Wafy)

 

Again, the team was not sure what to expect, and this time, things didn’t look promising.  We arrive in Mr. Wafy’s office and were told where he would sit, how the UN flag needed to be draped behind him, that he would only do the interview in english (instead of his preference, french) if he had all of the questions ahead of time – AND – during the 15 minutes or so that we were setting up his office for the shoot, he was sitting at his desk with a gruff look on his face and didn’t say a word to us.

 

Randy, our fearless director, soon disarmed Mr. Wafy and began to tell him how wonderful his english speaking was and soon Mr. Wafy was smiling and laughing and agreed to do the interview, in english, without advance knowledge of the questions.  Oh, and one other thing – we only get 4 questions.  Well, almost 45 minutes later and probably 22 questions into the interview, Mr. Wafy is smiling and compelling and doing a great job of explaining MONUSCO’s role in the DRC and his opinions on many of the topics that we are interested in regarding our film.

 

Last but not least was our need for Mr. Wafy’s blessing on our requests to head out on some MONUSCO operations.  He was more than happy to “bless” our wishes and get us in touch with the right people under his command to make it all happen.

 

So, three meetings and 5 hours later we are set.

 

Randy and Jock are heading out tomorrow morning at 6am to meet up with a security force convoy to drive up to Kanyabayonga (try saying that three times really fast) for an overnight trip to meet up with a battalion of MONUSCO soldiers that have been working with a recent proposed surrender/disarmament of the FDLR rebel group that are in DRC.  The team will likely get to see MONUSCO operations taking place and potentially speak with some of the commanders on the ground as well as speak to some of the FDLR rebels who have surrendered.  Quite an amazing trip.

 

Equally amazing is the other trip that we were granted.  On Tuesday of next week Randy and Jock will be headed to Malikale, this time by helicopter to get some nice aerial shots of the DRC jungle as well as spend a couple hours on the ground with an Indian battalion on the ground out on patrol in some of the neighboring villages.  What an adventure.

 

So, while we did not film a lot today, we were able to jump through all the necessary hoops to hopefully get some of the footage that we were after.

 

cu-training-edit

(Congo Unites Volunteer Leader Training)

 

Preparations for the Future Leaders Conference are continuing and at a very high pace here.  A lot of activity including training for the leaders taking place at the Africa New Day center.  We were able to catch a little of that training on film and I will be back there tomorrow morning to film more training.  After lunch tomorrow I will head out to Kigali, Rwanda to catch my plane back home to California.  Mike Kenyon will be joining Randy and Jock to cover the second half of this trip.  Mike arrives this coming Wednesday.

More to come.

-Doug

 

 

Day 6 – Back Home in Goma

Thoughts from our Director of Photography, Jock Petersen, on being back “home” in Goma.

 

It is amazing to come across the border of such a foreign country and feel a sense of home coming. Camille and Esther were there to greet us and get us through safely. This time we got held up by the department of health. They took our passports and went into an office.  One if the rules of traveling is to never let your passport leave your sight. On these trips I have failed that rule and Camille told me that if I stood around, they will want money. We got our passports back and all was fine.

 

The weather in Goma is notably different than before. The temperature is the same, with a little less on the humidity.  Camille says that it’s Goma’s dry season. It’s their Winter!  Apparently there is not as much rain so the dust and smog hangs in the air. It is thick!  There is a great sense of hope here, though. Things have changed. Roads are beginning  construction because they feel peace is underway and can now begin rebuilding.  They have bricks laying in the center being prepared to become a center island.  The chiropractic adjustment features of the roads have certainly diminished. A very wonderful sign.

 

prashan-team-lunch

 

After having lunch with Prashan and his team, we were asked to go directly to Congo’s version of the CIA. They needed to have us fill out paperwork and interview us for our permits to film outside of Goma.  We went inside the gates and were asked to leave our cell phones outside. A very stoic and intimidating woman in a structure no more sophisticated than that of a child’s tree house was our first line of questioning. We signed in and then she escorted us to the side of a building where we went into basement-like room to meet a man, more stoic and more intimidating than the woman, and his assistant at another desk.  It was quite difficult for the three of us, Camille and the fixer to fit in the room. We were asked questions which came through various translations. We had a few pages of detailed forms that included info on our schooling from elementary on, info about our parents, our wives and kids, and criminal records. For some reason they had a hard time believing we all had no convictions. Everything was done on paper. No computers. Before we arrived there we were told the cost was $50/person for this process. After we were done our fixer asked about the payment.  The discussion got weird. We couldn’t really understand but it seemed confused and maybe taking a bad turn. Then Camille said we should go. On my way out I said “Asante” (goodbye) to the men and they both changed their attitude immediately. The had big smiles and chuckled a bit. When we got out to the car Camille identified that he had never witnessed anything like what took place in that office. The men actually said “no” to the fee (bribe). They asked who told us there was a fee. The fixer wouldn’t give the person up to them, who was actually the first woman. Definitely a HUGE sign of change in a region where corruption has ruled for years.

 

We then dropped our stuff off at Maji (Dr Jo’s compound) and then ran to a meeting at the UN  with a man that our fixer had waiting for us. This guy is wonderful.  He handles all the access for CNN, BBC, and all media outlets. He really took a liking to us and set up a meeting with the head guy in charge of the entire eastern region conflicts for tomorrow morning. Normally this takes weeks. He plans on setting us up with troops to take us out into a jungle village where militia are surrendering into UN camps. We will go on Saturday and return on Sunday. He also is setting us up  in a helicopter and heading out over the jungle, through the valleys, and into the Lake of Fire (the volcano).  What an amazing and fruitful day.  Time to get some sleep.

-Jock

Day 5 – London to Kigali

Big Ben London England

After leaving Southampton and saying goodbye to Dr. Jo for now, we made the 90 minute drive into London to get ready for our 6:30am flight the next morning.  We made it into London just around sunset and took a quick jog around to see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc.

 

After crashing at a rented flat in London for a couple hours, we headed out around 4:30am to make our 6:30am flight from London to Amsterdam to Kigali, Rwanda.   While waiting to board our flight in Amsterdam to Kigali, a woman said to Randy & Jock, “Are you with Congo Unites?”  And they said, “Uh, yes we are”.  The woman’s name is Hannah and she is part of Prashan DeVisser’s Global Unites team and is coming to the Congo Unites Future Leaders conference.  We heard that we might meet up with on of Prashan’s team members in Kigali and make the 3 hour drive to Goma together, but we weren’t expecting to find her in the Amsterdam airport.  She saw Randy and Jock sitting and waiting to fly to Kigali and they had all of their camera bags with them so Hannah thought she would take a chance and see if these were the filmmakers covering the Congo Unites Conference.

 

We arrived safely in Kigali, but not all of our bags had the same luck.  One of Randy’s suitcases did not make it.  This is the first time in our adventures that a piece of luggage has been lost by the airlines.  Unfortunately, some of the gear we need is in the missing suitcase (apart from all of Randy’s clothes).  We will work something out while we wait for KLM to find the bag and deliver it to us at the DRC border in Goma.  It is currently Wednesday night here in Rwanda and at best the bag would be delivered some time mid-day on Friday.  Please pray that we get Randy’s bag delivered soon.

 

Thanks again for your continued support!

Day 4 – Video Recap by our Director Randy

Rather than type today’s update we took a minute to film a quick recap of the day while we waited for our dinner to arrive.  Apologies in advance for the loud music in the background of this Indian restaurant, the music was a little too loud, but the food was amazing.

Day 3 – Digging in with Dr. Jo

On Monday, we spent the majority of our day interviewing Dr. Jo and getting into his story.  Jo was incredibly gracious with his time and story.  As you know we have a pretty small crew – it’s just the three of us – and that sometimes means we have to wear different hats.  A perfect example is shown in the picture below, where Randy, our director, doubles as a make-up artist for Dr. Jo.

randy-makeup-edit

 

Jo has an incredible history with DRC, and who better to hear this great country’s history from than a Congolese veteran who has seen it all.  He was called in to volunteer his medical skills back in 1994 in Kigali, Rwanda during the well know Rwandan Genocide, started a hospital called Heal Africa with his late wife Lyn, watched the original hospital burn to the ground, covered in hot lava from a volcanic eruption in Goma in 2002, only to rebuild it, bigger and better, in the years following, time spent as a Senator for DRC, working to push initiatives to enable equal rights and protections for women.  So many interesting stories and perspectives that we are digging into with Jo.  We can’t wait to share some of them with you.

 

Thanks for your continued support.  Tuesday means a little more time with Dr. Jo before we head into London to get ready for our flight to Kigali.

 

Day 2 – Dr. Jo and his Sister-in-Law Marion

randy-marion

(Randy and Marion preparing for Marion’s interview)

 

It’s Sunday here in Southampton so we headed out out to church with Dr. Jo and his sister-in-law Marion.  After church and a quick lunch we headed to Marion’s house where Dr. Jo is staying to begin discussing his story as well as the story of his wife Lyn Lusi.  Lyn passed away about 2 1/2 years ago after a long battle with multiple bouts of cancer.  After sharing some family pictures and family stories we spent some time interviewing Marion, Lyn Lusi’s older sister, about Lyn and Dr. Jo and Heal Africa.  Marion did a wonderful job describing her “little sister” and what an amazing life she lived and what a positive impact she had on the world, by putting love into action and loving her neighbor.

 

dr.jo-2-edit

(Dr. Jo pontificating)

 

After a wonderful dinner with their friends and family, we made our plans for tomorrow’s multiple interview sessions with Dr. Jo.  Tomorrow is a big day and we are looking forward to our time really digging into Dr. Jo’s story – the main reason for our quick detour her in the UK on the way to Congo.