News from our team in Central Africa

“If We Want to Live in Peace, We Need to be Together”

The Central African Republic is now undergoing another painful episode of a conflict that began last December. ATD Fourth World’s volunteers there were awoken early on Dec. 5th by mortar fire. The firing continued in their districts for the next two days and nights. The rebels who took power earlier this year and local self-defense groups are attacking each other. But most of the victims are innocent individuals. One of our volunteers, Froukje Dijkstra, says, “In the shops, supplies are getting low. There is no more sugar or sardines. At the shops that are open, people wait in long lines. At the market, there were only a dozen stalls at most with women selling greens, a few tomatoes, very few things. People lock themselves in at home or leave for places where they feel safer. The streets are empty: no taxis, no buses, only a few pedestrians. People are scared to go out.

She continues, “There is a strength in people here that I could never have imagined. But we are sad and enraged.” These are the feelings that swell in people’s hearts after the fear: sadness at this chain of violence that profoundly affects the goodwill that has always existed between the religious communities in the country; anger because the voices that called for a UN intervention were not heeded earlier. This would have put an end to killings, and avoided widening the rift between communities.

In thinking of Nelson Mandela’s legacy, at first we wondered why people do not heed his call for brotherhood and reconciliation. How many lives will be sacrificed before wisdom triumphs over madness? But we also know that, in Central Africa and elsewhere, many children, young people, and adults have the courage and conviction to reject violence. We believe that humanity can indeed mature if our common projects take root in these people’s dedication to fellowship.

The Central African people are courageous as they withstand this current of fear and hatred. They need the friendship and respect of the world, so that the true meaning of their country’s motto can shine through. This motto, proclaimed by the Republic’s founder Barthelemy Boganda is Zo kwe Zo: Every person is a human being.

One of our Central African members says, “Our country is sick. But in all the things that are happening here, we are not far from ATD Fourth World. Why? Because we know that if we want to live in peace, we need to be together. That’s why we went to the island [to run activities with children] despite the rifle fire and the messages telling people not to go outdoors. We want to be together, to exchange ideas and try to find what we need to do for peace to return to our country, and to find out what, as ATD Fourth World, we can do to make this happen.”

Froukje and her fellow volunteers Joachim and Francois add, “We feel very small in the face of such violence, very powerless when faced with such suffering, both of the people we love and of those who we have yet to meet. But we are also witnesses to the strength people have to stand tall. Above everything, they hope for peace for each person in their country. We feel that we are messengers. We have stayed in link with most of our friends, and we pass on the words of friendship and encouragement we receive from all sides. The country and its inhabitants are suffering, the peace that everyone here hopes so greatly for is still far away, but we continue building it slowly, as best we can, because we believe in it.

Nobody knows how the situation may evolve, but we all hope that the coming days will bring calm, and that Central Africans will soon be able to say, echoing Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech in 1994: “The time for the healing of wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.

Isabelle Pypaert Perrin, Jacqueline Plaisir, Diana Skelton, Jean Toussaint
International Leadership Team.