Conference aims to raise awareness about Congo suffering

Bukeni Waruzi, founder and executive director of Ajedi-Ka/Child Soldiers Project, spent nearly 10 years working with child soldiers and children affected by armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is one of several speakers who will address the ongoing atrocities in the African country, including violence against women and children, at the third annual How Much Do You Know About the DR Congo? conference at York on Thursday.

Organized in part by sisters Barbro Ciakudia, a York International Bachelor of Arts student, and Nancy-Josée Ciakudia (BA ’08), the conference will take place March 11 from 1 to 8pm, with registration beginning at 12:30pm, at 152 Founders Assembly Hall, Founders College, Keele campus.

It is the Ciakudia sisters’ attempt to raise awareness about the thousands who continue to die from conflict, disease and malnutrition in the central African nation.

Left: Nancy-Josée Ciakudia (left) and Barbro Ciakudia

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), a global network of humanitarian relief workers, health-care providers, educators, community leaders, activists and volunteers, estimates that 5.4 million people have died in the Congo since 1998. In addition, sexual violence perpetrated by armed groups against women and children is increasing, says the IRC. Last year thousands of women and girls were raped, attacked and abducted.

“Many people will see the suffering surrounding them and think that nothing can be done to change the negative conditions in this world to the better,” says Nancy-Josée, who went on to study law at Oxford Brookes University following her sociology degree at York.

Right: Victor Amissi

But Barbro, who was born in Norway, where the family lived for 16 years as refugees from the Congo, says people can make a difference.  "Together, as a nation united as one, we can change the world to the better."

Left: Omékongo Dibinga

The conference will bring together Congolese and students, academics, businesses, politicians, international organizations and institutions, non-governmental organizations, artists and others. There will be singers, dancers, spoken-word artists and speakers throughout the day.

An activist for human rights in the Congo sing 1991, Victor Amissi will deliver a talk, "Youth, Victims and Actors in the DR Congo", at 2:20pm. Amissi has done humanitarian emergency management for Rwandan orphans since 1994. In 1996, at the beginning of the war in the Congo, he initiated Project GRAM-Kivu (Group Research & Action Against the Marginalization), a human rights organization to take care of children and women affected by the armed conflict.

Right: Bukeni Waruzi

Waruzi, a native of Uvira, South Kivu, in the Eastern Congo, will talk about "Violence Against Women and Children, and Accountability", at 3:20pm. He has helped demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers in the Congo and advocated on their behalf at the International Criminal Court, which led to the arrest of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga for the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

Omékongo Dibinga, an author, poet, actor and motivational speaker, will present "Congo Needs You Now" at 4:30pm. 

Kambale Musavuli, a Congolese activist, student coordinator and spokesperson of Friends of the Congo, will deliver a talk, "Breaking the Silence: Global Movement for Social Justice in the Congo", at 6:25pm. 

Left: Kambale Musavuli

More than 58 million people call the DR Congo home. There are over 200 different ethnic groups – about 70 per cent are Christian, 10 per cent Muslim and 20 per cent adhere to indigenous beliefs. French is the official language but dozens of African languages and dialects are spoken.

The one-day How Much Do You Know About the DR Congo? conference is hosted by H20Congo and York’s Founders and McLaughlin Colleges.

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