Recently while visiting a good friend in St. Louis I had the opportunity to meet an incredible man named Justin Semahoro. Justin is a Banyamulenge refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa that survived brutal attacks by militia groups who set out to kill off his tribe into extinction. While many genocide survivors are too emotionally torn to bring up the memories they hold so deep, Justin was able to sit down and tell me in detail what happened to him and his family nearly 13 years ago in the Congo. This is just one of millions of stories of genocide around the globe, and luckily this is one of survival…
How Can You Help The Banyamulenge Tribe?
To learn more about Justin's organization and to see how you can help Banyamulenge refugees, please visit the Imuhira International Web site.
How I Came To Know Justin
While exploring East Africa last December with my good friend Lindsay, I stayed in Kenya's capital city of Nairobi in the home of a family of eleven people. They were a picture-perfect, happy family who greeted us with song and dance when we arrived. They washed our muddy shoes, cooked for us their best foods, and treated us as honored guests while we were in their home. The children were full of life and had ambitious hopes and dreams that would make any parent proud. However, underneath the enormous smiles and loving hugs, the family's back-story is one of horror and devastation that is difficult to comprehend for most Westerners.
The father of this household is Justin's brother, Victor. Justin and Victor have not seen each other since they literally ran from their home in the Congo as it was being attacked nearly 13 years ago. At different places in the woods along the way, while running for their lives, Victor and his family found four small children whose parents had been killed in the attacks. Victor and his wife Bertha are now the children's foster parents and care for them and love them as their own.
Securing jobs in Nairobi is very difficult, even for native citizens. This makes it virtually impossible for refugees to find employment. Without a steady income, the family struggles every day to provide the most basic necessities. Besides facing this ever-increasingly difficult struggle for survival as a refugee in the real world, the only other option is to be placed into a refugee camp where homes are made of mud, food and water are scarce, and the quality of life is extremely poor. However, years ago Victor and his family had already tried their luck in a refugee camp in the neighboring country of Burundi only to have it attacked and massacred in 2004 where they once again witnessed horror unfold right before their eyes, proving that they were not safe, even in designated refugee camps.
After I fell in love with this amazing family and returned home to the U.S. I had the chance to take a weekend trip to St. Louis where I got the privilege of meeting Justin. It is humbling to know that I have the freedom and means to simply hop on an airplane at any given time and fly across the country to meet a man when his own family has not been able to see him in more than a decade. This, combined with the fact that Justin does not know if his parents are alive or dead, makes me more appreciative than I can ever convey through words that I live the kind of life that I do. Not only is my family a wonderful and loving family, but they are also alive and well, and I have the opportunity to speak to them and see them on a regular basis. Sometimes in our Western culture we forget how lucky we truly are. I am thankful for Justin and his family for opening my eyes to a world I never knew existed, and for helping me grow and become a better human because of my experiences with them.
Before I went on this journey I was ignorant to the fact that there are so many people in our world living like this, and I now feel compelled to share the stories I have come across in my travels with as many people as I can. And after meeting people like Justin and Victor and their family I can't go on with my life not helping out in some way, shape, or form. Producing this video is just one way I feel I can do my part in helping the cause…
The following list of statistics about the genocide in the Congo is from youthnoise.com and globalissues.com:
- It has been the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II
- Some 5.4 million people have died
- Some 45,000 continue to die each month
- 3.5 million people have been displaced
- Brutal, mass rapes are a common tactic; victims’ ages range from 4 to 80, and the they are disowned by their own families after being raped
- Although 19% of the population, children account for 47% of the deaths
- Although many have returned home as violence has slightly decreased, there are still some 1.5 million internally displaced or refugees
- Over three fourths of the population is now malnourished
- The vast majority have actually died from non-violent causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition—all typically preventable in normal circumstances, but have come about because of the conflict
- There is no access to healthcare
- There are thousands of child soldiers participating in the violence, many by force
- Attacks, rapes, mutilation, cannibalism, displacement, and death are all effects of this violence
- A rich and fertile area, Congo wouldn’t need help if the violence would stop
Filmed on January 15, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri, by Fat Tony.
Filmed with Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 USM lens.
More about Fat Tony and his work at fattonyphoto.com.