Peace building and reconciliation in the Great lakes Region
Gilbert was a young Rover leader when over one million Rwandan refugees streamed into Goma in 1996 from the genocide and terror of Rwanda and Burundi, from the long, arduous, barefoot walk from home villages which had been ethnically cleansed, and harassment by bands of soldiers and officials. The place allocated to the refugee camps was an unforgiving place, on the slopes of an almost dormant volcano. Within days, it turned to a death-trap, with insufficient water, food,
shelter and simply not enough space.
Hundreds of foreign aid workers also flooded into Goma scrambling in vain to distribute asssistance, and to make sense of thisplace. Many of these aid workers themselves fell ill, victims to the unwelcoming environment. Many just couldn’t cope with the stress.
Gilbert, team leader in the provincial Goma Scout Rover crew, assembled 15 volunteers. Armed with loudhailers borrowed from IOM (International Organisation for Migration) they criss-crossed the mountain slopes which had become a sprawling city and invited all Scouts to come together. 1,300 Scouts and former Scouts joined the call, and within days they had buried 26,000 bodies: victims of the long walk, starvation, and cholera.
They buried bodies, distributed food and clothing and formed the backbone of the relief efforts managed by many international NGOs in the camps. And their work was paralleled by other Scouts throughout the region affected by this horrible tragedy. Without the Scouts, these NGOs would have found it much more difficult to operate, and surely many more lives would have been lost.
But when this was all over, he didn’t sit still, he wondered what could be done to prevent any future re-occurrence. There were also Scouts, to their shame, among the perpetrators of the violence and the ethnic cleansing. When neighbour turned against neighbour, Scouts too joined the call to hate. Gilbert and his colleagues in the Scout associations of the region, seeing the result in Goma and elsewhere, vowed that they would do their best to prevent it from happening again.
But what to do? This region had been an ethnic tinder box, with flames of hatred fanned by fanatics, profiteers and mindless criminals. How could any organisation cross the lines and make a difference?
In response, Scouts from the region’s associations secretly camped together, When once again war flaired and the “Mai Mai” (jungle gangs that press kids into the conflict) came to a village to encourage boys and young men to join up, one lad came to his Scout leader to say goodbye, he was off to fight in the war. His Scout leader, recently trained in one of Gilbert’s courses, talked carefully, and the boy changed his mind, staying behind while his friends left. Three months later, he thanked his Scout leader, as all his friends had since died. One life saved, an example of many more untold stories.
With their own resources, and with a limited support from the WOSM Regional Office and a Belgian NGO Broederlojk Delen, and a grant from the Queen Silvia Fund (one of the special funds of the World Scout Foundation) Gilbert and his team have kept the programme alive since its inception in 1996. So far 48,638 Scouts and 1,194 leaders have been touched by the programme.
Gilbert and his colleagues have seen Scouting make the difference. They have seen Scouts do amazing things – in the height of the crisis local Scouts shone among all the thousands of aid workers. In the shadow of the crisis, Scouts formed bridges and helped to rebuild their communities.
Gilbert’s team is committed to continue, so their plans are not modest.
Gilbert and his team should be recognized as “Scouts of the World”.