Professor Kizombo Kalumbula and artist Pamela Alderman kicked off the Race, Ethnicity and Identity Conference Monday with moving lectures on the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kalumbula, a native of the DRC, started things off. He is currently an adjunct professor at Grand Rapids Community College in the psychology department, as well as a pastor for the Tabernacle Community Church.
Kalumbula delivered a lecture focusing on the civil war in Congo.
In 1994 the genocide in Rwanda forced many to flee the country into Congo. In 1996 a rebellion started in Congo and continues to this day. More than 8 million Congolese have lost their lives since then and 1 million more have been forced from their homes.
A militia called the M23 ran a murderous campaign to take control of the mineral-rich southeast part of Congo.
“[The M23] used the despicable, unspeakable weapon of rape,” said Kalumbula. “Women [in Congo] don’t talk about if [they will be raped], but when.”
The United Nations has labeled Congo as the rape capital of the world. It is estimated that more than 1,100 women are raped every day.
There is hope, but also many obstacles. Chief among those obstacles is a lack of justice. Many people don’t call the police because it is likely they will end up being victimized a second time.
“Why should we care?” asked Kalumbula. “Because we are our neighbor’s keeper, in the universal neighborhood of man… Every human being is our neighbor. We must engage in a message of hope.”
Professor Kalumbula then introduced Pamela Alderman, a top 100 finalist at Artprize in 2012, who started her lecture by reading the stories of some of the women she has interviewed for her artwork.
“My definition of ‘a woman who cares about the world’ changed in 2011,” said Alderman. “It took me five minutes to find Congo on a map of the world.”
That’s when she met group of Congolese refugees living in West Michigan. The stories of these women were so moving that Alderman became obsessed.
“I started watching documentaries [about women in Congo],” said Alderman. “I was horrified, but I could not stop watching.”
Alderman decided to help by using her art. She has interviewed many Congolese women for her Artprize installment. ‘Courage Ablaze’ is a mixed media work of art, ranging from water color portraits on columns to burned picture frames hanging on the branches of a tree.
“Art helps the soul to heal,” said Alderman. “No matter what culture you are from.”
During the question and answer segment, Professor Kalumbula offered a few ways to help. Any students looking to help the cause can visit internationalberean.org or congoim.com. There is also an online petition to sign at ushmm.org.