Carey Mulligan describes her trip through the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo and the inspiring children she met along the way.
In October I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo as a global ambassador for War Child UK, a worldwide network of humanitarian organizations focusing on children traumatized by war. Abandoned half-built buildings, abandoned half-destroyed buildings, and slums form the bulk of the cityscape of Goma, on the border with Rwanda. Nothing works. Corruption, power outages, and impassable roads—and the palpable threat of chaos—are part of daily life. One in ten children born today in the DRC won’t live to see a fifth birthday. Since the outbreak of fighting in 1998, 5.4 million people have died there.
Within these dire conditions I saw the extraordinary work of War Child and met children who, despite every element working against them, astonished me with their warmth, intelligence, determination, and desire to build a better life. I met Grace, a thirteen-year-old orphan with cerebral palsy who, having been abandoned by her stepmother, was found on the streets by a kind stranger who called the War Child help line. Children who have been forced to carry weapons as child soldiers, who have lost everyone they love, or who have been victims of sexual violence can call this number and get referrals and counsel from trained social workers. Through counseling sessions, Grace’s stepmother was encouraged to care for her again—but just a few months after their reconciliation, Grace stepped on a rusty nail and, because of the almost completely defunct health-care system in the DRC, was hospitalized only after it was too late to save her leg.
Along with a team from War Child, I walked into a dark hospital room with four other beds, shook Grace’s hand, and sat by her side. We talked to her about her life before the accident; about going to school. Her eyes lit up when she showed me the two scrappy school textbooks that were her most prized possessions—she told me she loved to read, and that she wanted more than anything to continue her education. The stench of the place was overwhelming; my jeans quickly became wet with the urine that soaked Grace’s mattress. As we talked, a brusque doctor thrust a hospital bill for $2,000 (and counting) into my hands and said that Grace wouldn’t be allowed to leave until it was paid. Grace’s stepmother—haunted, drawn, incapable of communicating—simply wept. She told me that even if the bill was paid, they would have nowhere to go.
Within weeks, a plan developed by War Child began to unfold. Grace’s hospital bills were negotiated down in partnership with the local government and will be paid by War Child, which is also in talks with other local agencies specializing in children with disabilities, so that when she left the hospital she was able to receive the specialist care she needs. Grace is a very smart girl, and once she has recovered she’ll be given help to get back into school to finish her education. In short, thanks to War Child, Grace—along with thousands of other children in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Gaza, Jordan, and Uganda—will have the chance of a future again.
For children who live with trauma, fear, and grief amidst wars they should have no part of, War Child is there to give them comfort, tell them they are not alone, remind them that there are people around the world who care about them and will do everything they can to keep them safe.?