Vision-GRAM International visits DRC: Interview with Executive Director Victor Amisi

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Vision-GRAM International (Group of action against Marginalization) is an organization of human rights affiliated to project GRAM- Kivu, which works to promote human rights in defending the rights of children and women. 

The vision of the organization dates from 1996 when the region of the Great Lakes – (Africa), conflicts have plagued the Democratic Republic of Congo and created millions of victims, death, displaced, wounded (men, women and children) because of traffic and proliferation of small arms and massive violations of human rights, where its has accomplished great actions.

Established in Canada under Vision GRAM- International in its new vision, is a worldwide movement that will continue to promote human rights around the world. Especially those of women and children affected by armed conflicts as well as the effects caused by small arms and weapon light.

In December, Victor Amisi the Executive Director of Vision-GRAM International traveled to DR Congo in order to observe the programs there and assess for any new or developing needs. Mr. Amisi sat down with this writer for an exclusive interview on regarding his trip and the outcomes.

 JF: What was the goal of your recent trip to Eastern DRC?

 VA: After several years of absence on the ground, it was time to return in the east of DR Congo. I wanted to go and see the changes in the situation of the population and assess for any changes in women and children who are beneficiaries of the support from Vision GRAM International.

Finally, it was an opportunity to empathize with the victims who struggle with the difficult situations of the war they face on a daily basis as well as a way to encourage them to work hard for their reintegration.

JF:  Which Vision GRAM-International sites did you visit and what did you see there?

VA: In the local office in Bukavu we held working sessions with the local staff of Vision GRAM-International then we had meetings with officials of local organizations working with children and women as well as an awareness session and exchanges with former children associated with armed forces and groups. They are at the transit center after leaving the army and they are receiving psychological help. Others former child soldiers are at the center where they are learning trades to facilitate their reintegration into their communities. Fruitful discussions were held, recommendations and needs of children were made. I talked about the role that young people play in the community, their strengths to change the world and rebuild society. Then we discussed our efforts internationally to conduct advocacy for good international policies. Children talked about the challenges they face after leaving the army.

Vision GRAM –International’s team also visited Kalonge (64 km from Bukavu) to visit the mentoring center for women, girls and youth. Meetings with victims of gun violence (women victims of sexual violence and former children associated with armed forces and groups).

A meeting was held at the office of Vision GRAM- International, based in Cifunzi/Kalonge with women who have benefited from the financial support to rehabilitate their lives. Women victims of sexual violence spoke about their situations and problems, they also brought their children born of rape.

Messages of compassion and encouragement were addressed to them for their situation and the role they play in their community. They understood that they are no longer victims, but actors in the community at large.

We visited the center of girls ex-combatants where they learn trades (cutting and sewing).

A separate meeting was held with young male ex-combatants at the center where they learn welding and fitting.

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JF:  Have the Vision GRAM-International programs in DRC grown? If so, which ones and how? Are you seeing new needs in the community?

VA: Vision GRAM-International supports two major projects of rehabilitation and reintegration of ex -combatants and victims of sexual violence. In the Field, major changes were observed:

Young ex – combatants receive training in welding, fitting, cutting, and sewing for their rehabilitation. A reintegration program is one that helps develop skills that are useful in their community. Since their move to the center, these young people see the change in their lives. They are able to meet their needs of their households; they spend their time at the center for training and feel distant threats of recruitment. In their time at the center, they also receive psychological support in order to balance their lives. They are able to focus on market research by selling their manufactured products.

Women have received financial support under the micro finance project. This project aims to empower and help them to reintegrate into their communities after suffering rape by militiamen.

They are able to access to the credit, they manage the funds themselves, they are able to pay school fees for their children and support them. They feel proud to manage themselves and decide on the fund management.

Working together helps these women to support the creation of mutual trust. However, the needs are great for women who have suffered from sexual violence. They have major difficulties.

Children born of rape are a burden for those women because their husbands do not want to see them. They take care of them but they are victims of discrimination in their house.

The funds received are insufficient to facilitate the full reintegration of women in their families and to meet all their needs. Difficulties due to family responsibilities do not respond at all.

JF:  How have the ongoing conflicts in Eastern DRC affected Vision GRAM-International programs and what did you see in the ground as to the effect the M23 and other rebel groups have had on the region?

VA: Vision GRAM-International has worked since the beginning of the wars in Congo, in particular contexts before, during and after conflicts.

Those Conflicts have affected projects in the field and sometimes have changed the results.

JF: Have you seen an increase in the use of child soldiers since your last visit? Which rebel groups are using child soldiers the most?

VA: In some parts of the country where the conflict is not as intense, child soldiers are not numerous. However, in areas where armed groups are active, children are taken hostage. With the end of the rebellion of the M23, it is not known what happened to the children that they had used in their ranks. Are they lost in the wild? Have they crossed the Rwandan and Ugandan borders? This is the big question. Other militias as Raia Mutomboki, FDLR, ADF-Nalu continue to use them. The situation is not safe for children in eastern of Congo. Children are in danger. They need protection.

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JF: Have you seen any mental changes or increased levels of trauma in the last few years among the child soldiers?

VA: Children have long suffered after their demobilization. They are in their communities, but their lifestyle does not seem to improve. They suffer most from post-traumatic depression. Violence has become their lifestyle, as measures of supervision and support are not solid. Sometimes they feel removed from their colleagues who refuse to play with them. They do not feel safe due to the threats militias. The community begins to reject some children. Thus, Vision GRAM-International took the initiative to mentor young people in activities at the center with the support of Terra Renaissance. They are working and receive psychological support. They talk to each other, share their experiences through recreational activities.

JF:  How is Vision GRAM-International affecting change for women in the region?

VA: Women had problems and need solution. Some were abducted, and raped for over 10 years and returned pregnant or with young children born from rape. Others were victims of looting and abuses from armed soldiers from Kalonge and surrounding groups. 

Having lost all their possessions and no longer having access to the benefits in their villages, reintegration is very difficult due to ruptured homes, being abandoned by their husbands, and flagrant stigma from villagers.  As a result, many feel abandoned.

Children meanwhile suffer from discrimination, ridicule and abandonment by their mothers’ husbands. They are not recognized and are discriminated against in the house. They do not receive assistance and are stigmatized by their colleagues in the villages. Many of them are not in school. This leads some women to move from village to village in order to protect their children against the mockery and insults.

After having experienced physical, psychological injuries from their tormentors, they still suffer doubly: on one hand from post-trauma symptoms and on the other, the unfortunate situation of their children.

With the support of Sow Hope the project realized by Vision GRAM-International was a relief for women.  Successes were seen in their recovery, return of confidence and change in their socio-economic situation in Kalonge. Of particular interest is the fact that women regained their dignity and participated in activities that were productive and that built capacity in their communities.

Many women who have benefited from the funds have become very active in villages; they no longer remain at home. With this small business, they express their satisfaction to find themselves as part of a community.  The possession of funds received from the project was perceived as a welcomed change and management system initiative in the community.  Women felt released from the oppression of the system they had always faced. They are able to manage their freedom and autonomy. 

JF: What was your biggest surprise on this trip?

VA: The big surprise was the smile and hope on the faces of the population, despite the suffering. However, they live day to day in fear, because anything can happen. The villagers have developed reflexes security and protection themselves. They live in solidarity in order to help each other in case of problems, despite poverty.

JF: Did your visit encourage you to develop any new programs that are now needed? If so, what are they?

VA: My visit was a lesson and a new experience that has produced ideas to bring relief to people affected by armed conflict and violence. Civilians need help from the government, protection and support from all sides. As for us, we will develop the entrepreneurial program and fight against poverty in order to promote development. We will strengthen the outreach program and capacity building of youth and other members of civil society for their rights and mechanisms for conflict prevention, peace building and human rights.

JF:  How do you and Vision GRAM-International keep hope for peace to be realized one day in Eastern DRC?

VA: Peace in D R Congo needs the participation of the people, the will of all actors involved in the conflict at the national level. As conflicts have become regional, the solution must be regional. Protection mechanisms of the population must be put into practice.

 In the peace process at the national and regional levels, the voice of victims (youth and women) must be heard. Moreover, as we do not speak peace without justice, the perpetrors of violations of war crimes and crimes against humanity must respond for their actions.

 It is clear that hope will be materialized if the government of the DRC stop corruption and begin the practice of good governance while caring for the welfare of its population. Having a good strong army, national and well framed is part of the solution. Good cooperation with neighboring states must demonstrate a real desire to bring peace in the sub region by practicing peace agreements.

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