Congo Week raises awareness of ‘humanitarian crisis’

The realities of the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are being brought to light on campus. This week Invisible Conflicts and the University YMCA are hosting Congo Week, for “Breaking the Silence.”

Congo Week 2011 is sponsored through the Student Cultural Programming Fee and donations from the United Auto Workers union.

The United Nations has declared that the Congolese Civil War is the worst conflict since World War II. Over 6 million Congolese people have been killed since 1996. Congo Week is an international event created in October 2008. The aim of Congo Week is to bring awareness to the plight of the Congolese people.

“We want to raise awareness about this crisis that people don’t know about and don’t talk about,” said Deanna Barnes, senior in LAS and head of Invisible Conflicts. “We want to mobilize support for the Congolese population in the Champaign-Urbana area.”

2011 brings a new element to the collaboration with the University YMCA. Invisible Conflicts has always collaborated with the YMCA, but this year Invisible Conflicts approached Ann Rasmus, the art director at the YMCA, which resulted in the scheduling of a performance by the Congolese Choir of Champaign-Urbana.

“The arts are one of the things that bring people together and helps us understand each other,” Rasmus said.

The Champaign-Urbana area has a sizeable Congolese population of around 600, Rasmus said.

“It’s a very prominent immigrant group that people don’t really know about at U of I,” Barnes said.

One of the unique aspects to the University’s Congo Week is the involvement of the Congolese population.

“We didn’t just want this to be a thing where the University students were hosting the events but shut out the actual Congolese people that live in the area,” Rasmus said.

Other groups participating in Congo Week 2011 include Students for Environmental Concerns, or SECS, Amnesty International, R.A.C.E.S, La Collectiva and the Channing-Murray Foundation.

“I just hope that people really get that these issues are complex and multifaceted,” said Matt Rundquist, senior in the college of ACES and SECS member.

SECS in particular is collaborating with Invisible Conflicts to raise awareness about resource exploitation and conflict minerals in the Congo.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis. It’s an environmental crisis, and it’s a crisis that’s going to take a lot of different kinds of concerns to address effectively and sustainably,” Rundquist said.