10/11/2005

Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone - Rescue Me

Posted by Kevin Sites on Mon Oct 10, 4:27 PM ET

Day Six: If your name is called, you might survive.

You'd think they'd won the lottery. In a sense they had, these IDPs (theUnited Nations designation for internally displaced people) in the remote mountains of eastern Congo. They had nothing. Nothing.

One old man did a little dance in the dirt, shuffling his feet back and forth, waving his white slip of paper, a smile on his face that seemed to stretch the length of the continent. Another woman stuck the paper to her forehead, rolled her tongue in her mouth - "la,la,la,la,la,la," her victory cry -- and ran to the redemption center.

They had been screened by their village elders, and when they came forward -- a nod of their heads, or a solemn no -- the elders separated the displaced from just the needy.

When their names were called, they received a coupon from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) that entitled them to the following: two packets of high-energy biscuits, plastic tarp, two cooking pots, ladle, five spoons, kitchen knife, a 10-liter jerry can and a bar of soap. Total value is about $50, but to them it is priceless, perhaps the difference between dying and surviving.

They are victims of a war of attrition lasting the better part of a decade. In fact, a war that was being waged by a foreign army: the Hutu Interahamwe militia from Rwanda. ..

Some of these are the same Hutus who had, in 1994, committed the worst genocide in Africa, killing more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and any others they considered sympathetic to the Tutsis in their Rwandan homeland.

The Interahamwe, with the help of the French, found refuge after their slaughtering spree in the Ninja Forest of the eastern Congo. Now they prey on the Congolese people, looting, raping, taking what they need to survive, or just what they want.

Vumiliya Mapendo fled her home in the village of Tubimbi when the Interahamwe attacked two weeks ago. She is sick with malaria and is almost too weak to stand. She leans her drawn face against a cypress tree, waiting in line for her name to be called.

"The militia use their rifle butts to beat my husband," says Mapendo. "He is in the hospital. He will survive, but he is hurt very badly."

She says she and her eight children fled to this village of Muzinzi, where they've relied on the kindness of friends.

"These clothes I'm wearing were given to me by another family," she says. "My children get nothing to eat all day but half a sweet potato. At the end of each day, when they don't call my name, my stomach hurts and I think I will have a heart attack."

If it weren't for the IRC, these people would probably have no hope at all. The nonprofit group has been working in the Congo for years and knows the vagaries of the environment. When villages are attacked like this, it sometimes takes weeks for anyone to get help to these remote regions. In response to the need, the IRC, mirroring the U.S. military's Quick Response Forces, created their own Rapid Response Team that has a mandate: to provide assistance to needy villages within 24 to 48 hours.

This most recent Interahamwe attack displaced 1,600 families, and the IRC planned to provide a survival kit to each and every one, although they want to make sure the right people get the assistance.

View photo essay
Musharhami, 28, hears his name called. He has six family members to tend to. The Interahamwe killed his mother and father and four younger brothers.

"They killed my brothers right in front of me," he says with no emotion. "Two of them were shot, and the others were cut with knives. When I watched this, I felt I was also a dead person. But they let me go. They wanted to keep someone alive so they could tell of their power and brutality."

He says he wishes he had died as well, but now he has responsibility to his surviving family members. He hoists the large survival sack onto his head and walks away down the dirt path. ..



Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone From Yahoo! News

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