World Vision's Aimee Manimani speaks to a father and son in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the Congo.
“There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom.
As a child my parents talked often of this man. They told me he was a hero, a man whose courage amazed the world. As I grew up, Nelson Mandela was no longer just a hero – he had become my example to follow.
Today I can say that I didn’t come to understand Mandela’s legacy through a book. I understand him daily through my job as an aid worker on the frontline of oppression and total injustice.
So often I get discouraged, scared and frustrated but then a second later I can also be amazed by the little victories and changes that I have seen our teams make among the children, parents and women we serve.
Like Mandela, I learned to not give up, but to have an ideal and make it real. All those words seemed a bit unrealistic to me when I started my aid career, but today they make total sense to me. All my life turns around these values – his values.
As Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Life is tough for everyone in the Democratic Republic of Congo but as a woman it is doubly so. My country is nicknamed the rape capital of the world because here rape is a weapon of war. Thousands of Congolese women face assault and violence daily.
Mandela stood for all minorities and for universal justice. He was an African patriarch who tried to understand what it meant to be a woman. Till the end of his life he stayed friends with his ex-wife Winnie because he said he understood how hard it was for her when he was in prison for 27 years.
Recently I met an eight-year-old girl from the town of Minova. She had been forced to watch as her parents were brutally murdered in front of her. I was rendered speechless as she told me; “I have forgiven those who killed my parents, not because I am weak and powerless to revenge but because I am stronger than what they did to me”
Human weakness, greed and hatred kill. This is what is killing countries like mine, like Syria, the Central Africa Republic, and so many other countries in the world.
What do you do when you meet an eight-year-old girl whose life was torn apart by people who will never pay for their crime?
Or what do you say to a 15-year-old girl who lost her parents after they were forced to flee their home to escape the fighting, who is now forced to look after her three-month-old baby sister?
Every day I face challenges like this. I wish the whole world could hear what I hear and meet the victims I meet.
This week we lost Mandela. In our joint grief my greatest wish is that everyone can stop for a minute to think about the world’s victims. Think about those who are hurt by weapons and wars. But also think about those we ourselves hurt daily with our words or thoughtless actions.
Think about what he would do. What he would want us to say. That way the answers may just become clear to us.
From the Democratic Republic of Congo I say thank you Mr Mandela.