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Democratic Republic of Congo: helping neighbours is just a question of love
12 March 2012

Theatre can be a powerful tool helping women reach across the ethnic divide, Mweso, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
As women, they take pride knowing they have an important role to play in the community, said Beatriz Garcia, JRS Project Director in Mweso.
Mweso, 12 March 2012 – Working for your community should be more about solidarity than earning a living. This is the focus of the latest JRS awareness raising initiative in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The focus of the initiative, 'Love has no price, no race; love is not lame' seeks to to promote voluntary work among camp residents. It is part of wider JRS work with displaced women in the camps which includes literacy classes and weekly meetings in which they discuss problems to be presented to the camp authorities.

The objective of the initiative is to empower women to take care of the most vulnerable individuals, such as the chronically ill, older persons, widows, young single mothers and orphans. Through this, it is hoped, the women will become actors in the process of community building which breaks down ethnic difference.

"We encourage women to think of helping suffering neighbours as more than a job, but a deeper responsibility, even when the entire community is under stress", underlined Beatriz Garcia, JRS Project Director in Mweso working with groups in the most vulnerable circumstances.

Since JRS started activities in Mweso in May 2011, one of the main challenges faced by staff in the field has been coming up with creative ways apart from financial compensation to encourage women to participate in programming.

"While JRS understands the true difference that financial help can make for those living on the margins of poverty, we are trying a different approach in Mweso. Although it has been challenging from the outset, by focusing on trust, responsibility and compassion as building blocks for the community, we are getting exciting results", continued Ms Garcia.

Community theatre, overcoming ethnic difference

As part of the initiative, JRS organised a community play about two older women, one Hutu and one Tutsi. The scene opens with the Hutu woman sitting alone outside of her hut, too sick and old to work or look for food and firewood.

"My life is miserable," she thinks, and complains that she has nothing to eat.

She notices an elderly Tutsi woman sitting alone outside her house, looking equally unwell. The Hutu woman wants to help her, but with nothing to offer, she is not sure how she can do it. After some reflection, she realises she does have something to give: her love.

The Hutu woman goes to the Tutsi woman, apologising that she can only offer her company and friendship. The Tutsi woman begins to cry and hug her neighbour, explaining that no one had come to visit since she arrived in the camp a year earlier.

"The emotion of the women was unbelievable after watching the play. They told us they felt that ethnic difference was not the most important factor in friendship, and that they were ready to take a new approach with the suffering people in the camp", affirmed Ms Garcia.

Since then, women participating in JRS activities are more enthusiastic and focus on the financial compensation has become less apparent.

"As women, they take pride knowing they have an important role to play in the community, as advocates for the needs of those in difficult circumstances. This renewed sense of energy is palpable, and we could not be happier about their spirit of involvement and participation", concluded Ms Garcia.

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 69 868 468