Goma is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on its eastern border with Rwanda. The resiliency of its people has been shown over and over in recent years.
In 1994, it was the site of the UN camps for 1 million refuges after the Rwandan genocide, which put a huge strain on the local population. Many of those who committed the genocide are still at large in the area and they, with other armies, have been involved in a civil war since 1992. Called Africa’s World War by Madeleine Albright, the conflict has engaged seven different countries and claimed the lives of an estimated 3 million people. With constant violence, torture, rape, and pillaging of the villages, people have fled into the towns, swelling Goma’s population from 200,000 to 500,000 in the last four years. Smaller-scale conflicts in 2007 and 2008 have increased the temporary population even further, with the most recent conflict in Fall of 2008 displacing over 250,000 people from the region, many of whom came to Goma for security.
Finally, in 2002, the Nyiragongo Volcano erupted, destroying much of the town and leaving many homeless and destitute.
This series of devastating hardships has severely strained the local population. People are starving because of the collapse of rural agriculture and the extreme difficulty of growing their own food on the lava flows. Because of rapid urbanization and political instability, unemployment has skyrocketed; the estimated family cash income in Goma is now only $25/month. It is impossible for most families to send their children to school on this income and, because of the devastation caused by the eruption of the volcano, there are also not enough remaining schools.
Existing schools are being used twice (once in the morning and once in the evening) and some have upwards of 70 students in a class. Finally, the population is strapped with the responsibility for tens of thousands of orphans from disease, the war, and the genocide. Many of these children are taken in by other families, taken care of by the church, and many live on the streets. It is for these children, in particular, that the GSF has been established.
It is amazing, given these hardships, to see the charity and strength of people in Goma. It is not uncommon to find whole households of distant relatives and orphans, supported by one or two wage earners. They are bound together purely by the desire to help one another, even with the most meager resources.
In our travels to Goma, the board members of GSF have found that even a small “hand-up” in these circumstances can provide huge benefits.