Travelogue from DR Congo: Day 2

Today we went into the camps. No matter how many photos or documentaries we watch, nothing can compare to the experience of being in those camps.
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I guess it's important to clarify why I'm here. International Medical Corps is an incredible organization that is providing healthcare and support to people in dire need. I met with them in Los Angeles two months ago and they approached me to see if and how I could help in anyway. They desperately need funding and general awareness raised both for the organization, and for all the projects they are involved with. If my involvement in any way could contribute to either then I was more than happy to be involved. My one request was that if we were going to start working together, it was imperative, that I see and experience what is going on first hand....So here I am.

Today we went into the camps. It's incredibly difficult to put down in writing what I saw and how I subsequently feel. I met so many courageous people: victims of brutal rape, mothers of children dying of starvation, and the children themselves. If a woman is married and raped here, most of the time her husband will leave her immediately. If she was too young to be married when raped, she will probably never have the chance to be married at all. It is brutal in every sense of the word. One woman recounted her story to me. She is twenty five years old, and was gang-raped five months ago. It is difficult to hear, but important to know that when women are raped it is sometimes not only by men, but by objects ranging from broken bottles and knives, to the butts of very large rifles. As a result of her experience, this woman will wear a colostomy bag for the rest of her life. I saw the scars, and the bag, and I can honestly say that it is one of the most harrowing images I will ever come across. A woman is raped here every eight minutes. This one, for better or worse, survived.

The work being done is overwhelming, the problem so huge. The wards are constructed under makeshift tents and the drugs are constantly running out. No matter how many photos or documentaries we watch, nothing can compare to the experience of being in those camps. The smell alone is unforgettable. But the people smile, and the looks on their faces when they hear that we are trying to try and help is one of hope. That is often all they have.

After the camps, we visited Virunga Hospital that caters towards seriously malnourished children. Some are skeletal, others are in an even worse state, their skin bloated to such a severe degree that it is bursting and ripping from their bodies. I have a ten-month old niece who I cherish and adore and who is bigger than a four-year-old child I met today. It is not however all completely depressing. This particular hospital has a 98% success rate, but the numbers of new admissions are growing and there are just not enough resources here to help everyone In need.

I am back at the hotel contemplating the amount of food I have thrown away in my life. And the things, fundamental things in life that I absolutely take for granted. I'm sorry this blog is so doom and gloom. I'm searching my head for a funny anecdote to finish on, but not having much luck. Be grateful, be happy. If you are reading this on a computer, take a minute to realize how lucky you are. We are all so so blessed... over and out.

Sienna Miller is working with International Medical Corps,, and Children Mending Hearts to raise awareness of the long-running conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and its devastating impact on women and children.