Meet Selina Coleman, a champion for change and peace.
After spending a significant amount of time during 2011-2012 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Sport4Hopes. She is now back in the US and we had the opportunity to learn about her journey and its impact on her life.
1. The purpose of my trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Sports4Hope was to
… implement the Ituri Project, which is the pilot project for Sports4HOPE. Sports4HOPE seeks to prevent and reconcile conflicts by inspiring hope, improving the quality of life, and empowering youth in conflict-affected areas through sport and peace education. We worked specifically in 3 villages, Bogoro, Vilo and Kagaba, which are located in the Ituri district of the DRC. I was the Peace Education Developer and responsible for planning and facilitating peace education sessions with committees established in each community.
2. When I arrived to the DRC, I did not expect… the infrastructure to be underdeveloped. I had previously spent 6 months in Tanzania and I was expecting the DRC to be similar, however it was very different. The roads were not paved which made travel around the DRC long and dusty. Additionally there were frequent power cuts as well as water cuts. The lack of information available to the Congolese people was also a shock to me. Many of them do not have access to the internet or even newspapers. Much of the information they receive comes from other countries such as Uganda. I also did not expect to be called “white” all the time. I spent a lot of time trying to convince people who I was black but most people still felt that I was white and should be happy to be white. White people are perceived as being very privileged and have lots of money.
3. Working with the Congolese people taught me… to be patient and tolerant. I had to realize that we were not in the US therefore things are not always done the way we do things in the US and that is ok. Despite the lack of infrastructure, things seemed to get done in a timely manner. It may not always have been in the time frame that I wanted it to get done, but it got done. People rely on cell phones as a main form of communication; however face to face interaction is highly valued.
4. One of my biggest challenges was… teaching about human rights in a country where there are still so many human rights violations committed by the government and militia groups. Committee members expressed concern about the lack of respect for human rights in the DRC and how it is difficult to speak out against the government due to the repercussions. We talked about how knowing your rights is the first step and focused on people throughout history that have made change within communities through the power of working together. The committee members drew strength from people such as Martin
Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi which encouraged them to want to make change within their own communities.
5. A defining moment of the success of our efforts was… when we held our Intercommunity Peace Education Celebration. After 5 months of working in the 3 villages separately, we brought all of our committees together to celebrate the conclusion of our first peace education sessions. Each committee prepared a presentation to showcase what they had learned. The chiefs and pastors from each village spoke of the importance of the peace education sessions and the stressed that this was a great first step towards reconciliation within the communities. It was an awesome sight to see people who had previously been at war come together for a time to peace and fellowship.
6. My most favorable experience was… going out to the villages and feeling like a movie star. Whenever we would drive to and through the villages, the children and community members would call out my name and wave as we drove past. I considered this a great achievement because at first they were calling us “mzungu” which means “white person” in Swahili. Once we got to know people and they got to know us, we moved from being called “Mzungu” to being called by our names and that made me feel more a part of the community at large. When we stopped in the villages, the children would all crowd around us and laugh and play with us (sometimes laugh at us lol)! It was a great feeling
to see so many smiling faces!
7. My biggest lifestyle change while in the DRC was… trying to figure out what to do with my hair! Due to the dirt roads, I always felt like my hair was a big ball of dust, which it really was. I also missed being able to go to the grocery store to get candy and other food that I would usually eat. Luckily we had a great group of friends and supporters that sent us care packages with all of the things we missed.
8. The best food I ate… ironically was beans and rice. There was something about the way the beans and rice were prepared, I think it was the palm oil they used, but they were delicious! I could have eaten beans and rice every day. We also ate a lot of potatoes, beef, fish, cabbage, and sombe, which is the local equivalent to collards.
9. I went hoping to improve the quality of lives in the DRC and found my life improved in the following ways: I had an enriching culture experience where I learned from the Congolese people, my colleagues and other expats that worked in the DRC from countries such as England, Romania, the Netherlands, and France. The exchange of information was always interesting when I spoke with people from other cultures and countries. I learned of different customs, foods, celebrations, etc. that helped me to appreciate and accept cultures that are different from my own. I have developed friendships that will last a lifetime and look forward to keeping in touch with these friends as they continue their work in Congo and throughout the world.
10. After returning to the USA, the biggest adjustment was… trying to figure out what side of the street to drive/ walk on since they drive on the opposite side on Congo. I was excited to take a hot shower and go to the grocery store that had everything I could want and need. I missed Mexican food so I was excited to go to Moes!
11. The most profound change which occurred during my visit to the DRC and continues to be a part my life today… took place during our peace education sessions. Throughout this time I saw people’s perceptions in regard to “the other” change. Each community was made up of different ethnic groups that have a long history of hatred and stereotypes about the other ethnic groups and communities. Through the peace education sessions we examined why these stereotypes exist and how they can lead to discrimination. Committee members also enjoyed learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his non-violent struggle for civil rights. Through his work, they were encouraged that change is possible and that it begins with a small group of concerned and dedicated people.
12. I would go back because… I fell in love with the Congo and its people. Despite the challenges such as the corrupt government and lack of infrastructure, it was a great place to live and work. I feel that I have developed a strong bond with the children and community members in the villages which motivates me to go back one day. Additionally, I feel that there is much more work to be done to help promote peace and reconciliation in these villages and I look forward to being a part of that work.
You can learn more about her journey at Selina’s Congo blog.
She is pictured here with Stephen Reynard and Scott Brelsford.
Click the link to learn more about the organization, Sport4Hope, the team and their successes.
Sport4Hope will spend the next year fundraising and preparing for their return to the Congo.
For helping the world community, Selina, we thank you!