Joseph Tsongo and his group’s ‘garden of hope’

Joseph Tsongo lives in North Kivu in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a country already dealing with war, the deadly diseases of Ebola and measles, and now COVID-19.

He leads an organization called the Amani Institute, which uses theater to help young ex-combatants process trauma they have experienced and reintegrate into their communities. But virus restrictions now prohibit large public gatherings.

So he shifted tactics. Joseph and other volunteers began a public awareness campaign, focused on the virus. Through flyers — and in some cases a megaphone — they educate villagers in their region about virus developments and best safety practices. “We have been in some remote villages to spread the message everywhere,” he said.

 

Our role as a peacemaker and activist for social change is to nurture the hope of living despite the tenacity of the crisis, restore self-confidence and mutual trust between members of local communities to promote cohesion or social inclusion despite physical distance.

The group is doing other practical things to help the community. Its garden is providing food for those who can’t afford it. “The fear is enormous because food prices have increased since this crisis,” Joseph said. “Coronavirus or not, we will have in more or less three months, fresh vegetables to feed woman survivors of sexual violence” and other members of the community. It’s called Shamba la Matumaini or “garden of hope” in local Swahili.

And after the virus subsides?

Joseph is already thinking about ways to tailor his organization’s theater workshops, which are designed in the psychodrama style, to encourage people to express their emotions to process the trauma caused by the virus quarantines and deaths. He said:

We are working on a good plan to end the crisis, and we are preparing for it accordingly because it will not be easy for us and our local communities.

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