WORKING FOR A BETTER WORLD

Orphans play in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yenyi hopes to one day open an orphanage to provide a home for orphans and the rape victims of the war torn country.

Orphans play in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yenyi hopes to one day open an orphanage to provide a home for orphans and the rape victims of the war torn country.

Colby Williams

To most people in Joplin, Trésor Yenyi Lungudi looks like any other African college student who has earned his way into the American educational system. He wears a bright smile, and his laugh rings loud and often in any crowd. When he sits down to chat with a friend, he listens better than most people in the Western world, even though he does not yet count English as one of the eight languages in which he is fluent. Behind this man, however, is a past scarred with pains and horrors beyond anything a movie has attempted to portray, as well as a heart that wants to eliminate these injustices for others.

“As long as I can remember I have wanted to be a leader and bring change in my country,” Yenyi said.

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Yenyi was raised under a dictatorship and has seen his country at war for most of his life. He describes DRC as a country of 60 million, including 5 million children that have been affected by war in some way. This does not include the almost 4 million Congolese who have died because of wars since 1996.

The war began in 1996 when the nation’s dictator, Mobutu, who had been in power since 1965, was overthrown by rebel groups aided by surrounding countries Rwanda, Angola and Uganda. What was seen as a great victory by some was blemished by the fact that the rebel armies were made up almost entirely of child soldiers who had been forced or tricked into fighting for the rebel leaders.

A man named Kabila assumed the presidency of DRC, placed there by the rebel leaders. A disagreement broke out, however, between Kabila and the neighboring countries which helped to put him in power, and in 1998 another war began. This time the once allies, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, attacked DRC and conquered the Eastern part of the country. To make matters worse, these countries supplied new rebel militias in DRC with arms and funds for their cause, which was always war. Multiple new factions arose and innocent Congolese people fled the East in droves. Much blood was spilled, and after a while, it became impossible to decipher who was fighting whom, because of the countless rebel groups and neighboring armies that were at war in different cities.

“One city, for example, is called Kisangami,” Yenyi said. “It was once the third largest city in Congo. Now it is called ‘Martyr City.'”

He also said many of these rebel groups resorted back to tribal ancestor worship, while many victims depend on the DRC Protestant Church for help.

Soon power-hungry militias discovered ways to get what they wanted from the population.

“The militias understood that they needed the population to work for them,” Yenyi said. “There are lots of diamonds and minerals in Congo. They all began attacking villages and raping the women in front of the men to instill fear. Then they would take the children and force them to be soldiers.

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“Then the villages would do whatever they wanted.”

This includes giving up their mining products, food, money, and manpower. Massacres plagued the land, and these village raids became common practice for every rebel group in Eastern DRC.

These practices have never stopped. On the bright side, a healthy spot appeared on the cancerous skin of DRC in 2006 when the first election in the country’s history was successful. Now, with a newly established leader and government, DRC has made several steps toward ridding the country of neighboring armies and internal rebel militias. On the other hand, however, Yenyi said that Easterners are being massacred, raped, and kidnapped not only by the militias, but now also by the Congolese army.

“The Eastern part of Congo is like the biggest mess there is,” Yenyi said. “Every outlaw is in there.”

He says that the main problems left from the wars are the child soldiers, women victims, the spread of the AIDS virus and the wide-scale malnutrition of the population.

Tens of thousands of children were forced to kill, rape, take drugs and act as sexual slaves to older soldiers throughout these wars. Now, when they escape or are released, they have no skills or knowledge of normal life. Yenyi says that people see these children as monsters for what they’ve done, and corrupt church leaders are even torturing and killing ex-child soldiers for “being witches.”

In his culture, Yenyi says that rape victims are usually abandoned.

“I had the opportunity to talk to 13 women one-on-one,” he said. “They were enslaved, abused and raped for months. They showed me the scars on their backs and stomachs. Some came back from their enslavement five months pregnant and were rejected by their husbands.”

The AIDS virus has spread into most of DRC, especially in the East where one city reportedly is 26 percent infected. Also, the East is the agricultural region, Yenyi says, so even though there is plenty of food being grown, the militias have control over the product and the people get nothing.

“If the East is starving, the whole country is starving,” Yenyi said.

He also said most hospitals and schools were destroyed and those with an education sufficient enough to teach or practice medicine left the country long ago. Now, no parents can afford the private schools that are available.

“But even with all of that, I still believe there is hope,” Yenyi said, noting that steps are being taken to get the country back on its feet. “We are learning how to be free now. That’s an amazing experience. People have to learn duties and responsibilities. I tell people, ‘You don’t rebuild in one year what has been destroyed in 45 years.’

“So, we are taking baby steps to a better future.”

He thinks now is the time for Congolese people with expertise in any field to return to DRC for the rebuilding process, and that is exactly what he plans to do. For now, however, Yenyi is intent on raising awareness for his causes in DRC.

“I couldn’t go to the White House,” he said. “But I could tell my friends, and I think that could make a difference.”

While Yenyi raises awareness in the States, he is pursuing a four-year degree at Ozark Christian College, here in Joplin.

Although he planned to study international relations in Switzerland, he said that he was led to Ozark because of visa complications. He attributes this to divine will. After he finishes his undergraduate degree, Yenyi wants to study counseling for the work he will be doing in DRC.

When he returns to his home country, Yenyi will step into the leading role in a nonprofit organization that is already registered in the States and in France. Yenyi’s organization is called Shining Light Ministries International, and it is difficult to find a need that it is not trying to meet. Over the past two years, he has done a lot of what he calls “little things.” For example, he led his residence hall in raising $1700, which went to feeding ex-child soldiers and prostitutes at Christmas and paying for their hospital bills.

He also has taken two groups of Joplin residents to DRC, taking along with them Bibles, counseling books and food. While there, they visited hospitals and prisons and counseled war victims, child soldiers, AIDS orphans and rape victims.

Currently, Yenyi’s main project is purchasing a large property where he will house 13 women who were enslaved by a rebel group. He hopes to quickly turn this facility into a counseling center for hundreds of female victims in DRC. The specialists required for a project like this are already falling into place. This estate is one of the only properties in its area with electricity and running water. Yenyi also has in the works a medical/counseling center in Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, which has at least 50,000 children on its streets because of war crimes. This center’s services will be very inexpensive or free. In the near future, Yenyi wants to start orphanages around DRC, and eventually in the surrounding countries. Plans for these orphanages have been going for five years now.For others wishing to join these efforts, there are many ways to get involved. Yenyi said the biggest help anyone could lend would be to spread the word, donate medical supplies, work in one of his facilities in DRC and, most of all, pray.

“See the world as bigger,” he said. “Learn more about what is going on everywhere. Now that you have read this, you can’t say that you didn’t know thousands were dying of preventable diseases.

“There is hope – even if it looks very dark.”

For more information on how to join Yenyi in bringing peace and reconciliation to the people of DRC, persons may visit theheartofdarkness.org, or email him at [email protected] A DVD, photos, and other information is available.