Fear and Vigilance: Refugees in the DRC

All photography | Joni Kabana

Tension was extremely high in and around Goma when I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo in January. I was in the country with a Mercy Corps writer to document Mercy Corps' efforts.

The organization gave me strict orders regarding in what circumstances I could use my camera. We were able to go to selected camps and see the fuel-efficient stoves, wood donations, water purification systems and gardens that Mercy Corps has provided.

I returned with many images that depict life and human emotions in the refugee camps around Goma and the aid that Mercy Corps provides. Mercy Corps supplies clean water to approximately 100,000 people every day, builds latrines and furnishes hand-washing stations to help prevent deadly diseases such as cholera; establishes gardens; and provides firewood and improved cookstoves that protect Congo's fragile environment while helping families meet their basic needs in one of the most violent places in the world.

I was impacted greatly by what I witnessed in the DRC. Aid only goes so far, and it is humbling to see so many people (more than 20,000 per camp) in constant need. More concerning is that in these camps human spirits are subjected to some of the most heinous acts by soldiers and even by those who supposedly are there to protect them.

As photographers, we have a certain responsibility to capture an array of emotions found in the environments we photograph. In the DRC, I saw the same facial expression over and over again: intense fear and hyper-vigilance regarding what could occur next.

I am home now, in my safe home and warm bed, with food at my table. The images haunt me, knowing their subjects currently have no way out.

Mercy Corp

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