[Individual articles from the Fall 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]
For the last year, MCC has been responding to the humanitarian crisis in Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R. Congo). MCC has been trying to increase awareness of MCC supporters and the broader Anabaptist community about this low-profile and significant humanitarian crisis. In order to mobilize resources to meet urgent needs, MCC has shared stories and images of people who have suffered horrific violence and remain very vulnerable. This article draws on my personal experience leading MCC’s response to the Kasai crisis, including collecting stories and images of displaced people, and will explore the dilemma of collecting and sharing stories and images of people affected by humanitarian crises.
The conflict in Kasai erupted in 2016. What started as primarily an antigovernment movement evolved and exploited historical ethnic tensions and political allegiances. At the height of the crisis, 1.4 million people were displaced; entire villages have been destroyed and over 3,000 people have been killed. Many Congolese have witnessed and directly suffered terrible acts of violence. Last year the United Nations declared D.R. Congo a Level 3 crisis—the most severe humanitarian crisis. While the humanitarian situation is grave and deteriorating, there has been little media coverage of the crisis in D.R. Congo overall, let alone the crisis in Kasai. Thus, it is critical that MCC collect and share compelling stories and images to mobilize supporters and raise awareness.
MCC has given high priority to this response because of the scale of the crisis and due to the historical and ongoing relationship between MCC and the large number of Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches in the region. To date, MCC has allocated over US$1 million to provide food assistance, hygiene items, shelter and educational support in partnership with Congolese Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren denominations. In this response, MCC has worked in partnership with various other Anabaptist mission agencies who also want to mobilize their church members to respond. This puts additional pressure on MCC to collect powerful images and narratives to share with other agencies.
MCC staff have gathered photos, video and stories in various locations in Kasai. Due to logistical challenges, MCC staff gathered this material while also undertaking other activities, including during the situation assessment carried out to determine needs and available resources and during the planning and implementation of the relief response. MCC communications policy requires that individuals give permission before their photos are taken and an explanation is provided for why MCC is collecting the photos. While some people were asked to tell their stories, others came forward on their own. Overall, displaced people from Kasai were very willing to share about their experience and to have their photos taken. They shared painful stories of fleeing their villages and seeing family members killed. They were also able to communicate their priority needs, including food, health care and education for their children.
The presence of visitors in the community and being invited to tell one’s story can provide hope to people in desperate circumstances—a hope that other people around the world will hear about their situation and be moved to provide support. At the same time, soliciting stories from people in crisis can also raise expectations that the community will be provided with assistance. While the response was at the planning stage, no promise of assistance could be provided; however, it could be viewed by some that telling one’s story would lead to a greater chance of being selected to receive humanitarian assistance.
During the assessment and planning phase of the response, I was able to visit several communities and hear the stories of community members. But due to limited resources, the security situation and logistical challenges, MCC was not able to assist all who shared their stories. As an example, I travelled with local church leadership to one remote village which was still an active military zone and not accessible for humanitarian assistance. In this case, providing food assistance could have potentially endangered the lives of people—two weeks later, there was a massacre in the village. In other cases, due to limited resources, MCC prioritized resources for the most vulnerable. This meant that some people who contributed to the fundraising effort by sharing their stories of displacement did not receive support from MCC.
In some instances, MCC is able to share the published stories and photos back with families. MCC interviewed Agnes Ntumba during the first distribution of food and education supplies in Kabwela. During a followup visit, I was able to show the images to her and her family that were printed in Mennonite World Review. The entire family was delighted to see their story and photos; knowing that others have heard their story and seen their faces can bring joy and restore dignity to uprooted people.
Gathering stories, photos and videos of people displaced by an active conflict presents significant logistical challenges and raises ethical questions of how to collect this material in a transparent fashion and without making promises or raising expectations. Facing these challenges and addressing these questions are essential parts of MCC’s work to meet basic human needs. By sharing the stories of people affected by the Kasai crisis, MCC has been able to slowly increase the number of displaced Congolese families from Kasai who receive assistance.
Mulanda Jimmy Juma is the MCC representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola.
Dennison, Luke. “New phase of lawlessness grips Congo’s Kasaï region.” IRIN. August 28,
More information about how MCC is responding to the Kasai crisis is available through MCC’s website: https://mcccanada.ca/stories/supplying-food-peopledisplaced-violence-kasai.