Santa Barbara International Film Festival Official Selection!

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They Came at Night, our new Mobile Cinema film made in partnership with Invisible Children was just selected to compete in the Dramatic Shorts competition at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Jan 30 – Feb 9, 2014.

We are very excited. To see the full line-up of all the incredible films playing this year check it out here. If you are in Santa Barbara, please come see the film. Stay tuned for screening date and time.


They Came at Night Featured as Vimeo Staff Pick

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DTJ is pleased to announce that They Came at Night was chosen as a Vimeo staff pick. The film was made in partnership with Invisible Children and was shot exclusively with first-time-actors, who were personally affected by the war during a short production schedule.

This film is currently being toured across three countries in central Africa by local organizations in conjunction with an in-depth facilitated workshop to prepare communities to peacefully receive LRA escapees who return home. This film is being used as a catalyst for forgiveness.

Watch it now below if you haven’t seen it and share it if you have. Click here now to donate to help DTJ continue to use media to protect children from war.

They Came at Night from DTJ on Vimeo.

An Interview with Ernest Sugule

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We sat down with Ernest Sugule, the founder of Dungu-based Solidarity and Integral Assistance to Destitute People (SAIPED) to ask a few questions about his experience working to end LRA violence in central Africa and why he partnered with us to create the two Mobile Cinema films. SAIPED has been our partner throughout our work creating Mobile Cinema programs in DR Congo and we wanted to hear why he believes in this alternative approach to creating change in communities affected by war.

Why did you decide to partner with DTJ on the Mobile Cinema project?

Storytelling is at home in Africa. Africa is a place where storytelling is used as a means of keeping our traditions alive and sharing knowledge with each other. Mobile Cinema does exactly that. We partnered with DTJ because through the Mobile Cinema project, local people can tell their own stories to each other. This allows for people to identify with each other in new ways. Through story, Mobile Cinema gives people the opportunity to visualize someone’s suffering, hear their suffering and at the same time feel that they are not alone in their own suffering. This makes the Mobile Cinema approach so unique and powerful. The second reason we decided to partner with DTJ was because their approach is completely different from other partnership approaches. DTJ builds the capacity of the local organization and then accompanies them for a certain period of time and then lets the local organization run the program independently while DTJ continues to provide funding and program support.

How does DTJ work in partnership with SAIPED?

Our partnership with DTJ is unique and different from partnerships we have had with other international organizations. DTJ trained our staff and accompanied them on the ground. At this point they left, allowing our staff to carry on the project independently with tremendous results. This partnership has helped build the capacity of our SAIPED staff in knowing how to implement the Mobile Cinema and psychosocial programs. SAIPED staff are now even able to use Mobile Cinema in different programs such as the defection program, which includes community forgiveness, etc. Really this partnership has been so helpful to SAIPED staff in terms of capacity building.

Film is a new medium in the remote areas of DRC and is not a familiar way for people to communicate, why do you use mobile cinema films in your programs?

Film might be new in the remote areas of DRC but this also makes it attractive. Film is special because it gathers everybody, from children, to youth, to adults and even elderly people. This is unique because it gets the attention of everyone at different ages all at once. For instance in Faradje, in one evening, the parish priest asked us to show the film to people. Although we did not inform people in advance, we just put our equipment up and started showing the film and leading discussions. 10 minutes later, over 1,000 people turned up to watch the film, including the lecturers from the Higher learning Institution of Faradje. Therefore, film is a new way to tell one’s own story and it has been a very powerful tool to reduce trauma in LRA-affected victims. They see their own stories being told on the screen and it provides an opportunity to LRA victims to open up and start sharing what they went through. This healing process helps them move on with their lives. Mobile Cinema has helped us reach over 2,500 children and their caretakers, and reduce trauma symptoms by over 50% in children who were formerly abducted by the LRA.

How is it significant for people to see a film in their own language about issues in their own communities?

Painful events or even traumatizing events are best expressed in one’s mother tongue. When local people listen to their stories being told in their own language, it makes them feel more at home and at ease. At the same time, this gives them a unique opportunity to realize that they are not alone in their suffering, and to understand that what happened to them also happened to many other people. The film also gives them a learning opportunity to move away from the traumatizing or painful events to positive events in their lives. The film’s resolution creates hope and positivity. The film gives people courage to move on and to start a new life on a new basis. Even just one viewing of the film leaves indelible marks on local people, convincing them to change their inner beliefs. The film is so powerful and unique because it gives opportunity for people to model the positive behavior of the characters in the film.

What is the Mobile Cinema film “They Came at Night” about? What are you trying to accomplish with this film?

The Mobile Cinema film, They Came at Night, is about two abducted boys who are escaping from the LRA. One is caught by the LRA and beaten seriously but the other one is able to successfully escape because of the help of a local hunter. But when this local hunter takes the escapee back home, he faces fierce opposition from the local youth and even from his own wife. After the escapee recognizes what he did wrong and asks for forgiveness from the local youth, he is forgiven by the community. They then accompany him to the military authorities so that he can be repatriated to his own country. The biggest lesson we want to convey to local people is to learn “how to forgive” an LRA combatant who surrenders, or defects. This is so important because if people are not able to forgive the LRA, they will not be able to help the LRA surrender, and the war will continue. However, this demands a lot of effort from local communities. We are essentially asking them to move on from the bitterness they feel to forgiveness. But this is healing, and this is a healing process for the whole community. The film shows clearly how the local hunter and even the local youth had opportunities to kill the LRA escapee but they chose to forgive him and help him surrender so that he could go home. This is what we want the community to learn and model.

Can film really create change in LRA-affected communities? How?

The mobile cinema program has produced changes measured by quantitative and qualitative data in the communities. For the first Mobile Cinema program about reintegration, we were able to reach over 2,860 beneficiaries of whom 1,430 were children who escaped from the LRA. The program also reached over 1,430 caregivers of these children. We included the caregivers or parents of these children in order to reduce their trauma as well and equip them with same basic techniques to recognize trauma and addressing that in their own children. So far we have been able to reduce psychological distress symptoms by over 50%. This means that children are reporting feeling less depression, anxiety, trauma, sadness, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of isolation. Also, formerly abducted children are experiencing less negative stigma. Qualitatively, the Mobile Cinema program has been able to create space for children to deepen connections to their families, peers, teachers and community members. The community now holds more value for formerly abducted due to increased empathy towards them. Lastly, we have seen increased community cohesion and unity because of the program. The second Mobile Cinema program focuses on forgiveness and encouraging peaceful surrender from the LRA. Our target is 2400 beneficiaries in two communities. So far we have been able to reach over 600 beneficiaries. The program is designed to create a Safe Reporting Site for escapees where they can surrender without being attacked by the local community members. So far we have had tremendous results. For instance, before following the program, one beneficiary told us that he would never forgive an LRA escapee because the LRA killed all of his family and he wants to take revenge for their deaths. But after going through the program he was able to say that, “now I can forgive an LRA soldier who escapes so that I have peace”. All the participants have been able to move away from bitterness and vengeance towards forgiveness.

How can the film help communities to decide to peacefully accept LRA combatants who surrender? What is the role of it?

Various characters in the film provide role models to the community. Community members can learn from these role models and imitate them. Therefore, community members can remind themselves of what they saw in the film and play the same role. The other thing the film does is that it sets a base for forgiveness for the entire community. The community can learn from the film how to forgive LRA members who want to defect.

There are some sensitive scenes in the film, does this create a mental trauma for communities who watch it?

The film should look close to reality so that it is believable. That is why some sensitive scenes should be in the film to make it appear as close to reality as possible – so that people can relate from their own experiences. This also gives opportunities to the characters in the film to show the community how they can move away from these painful experiences. Yes this is sensitive in the first exposure, but this is necessary so that the community is able to move away from the painful events. The painful event becomes a learning event from which local people learn from in order to know what to if the events repeat themselves. The other reason why it is important to show sensitive scenes is that the more we are exposed to our own stories and realities, the less traumatized we become. This is a learning process for the community as well because we expose them to difficult realities but in a safe setting. And then we help them process these events and overcome them.

What is your vision for what Mobile Cinema and the CDCs can accomplish in DRC?

This has been one of the most successful community-based programs, which exists to build resilience within communities. Resilience is defined as, ‘the ability of individuals, communities, organisations, or countries exposed to disasters and crisis and underlying vulnerabilities to anticipate, reduce the impact of, cope with, and recover from the effects of adversity without compromising their long-term prospects’. My vision for the Mobile Cinema and the CDCs is to expand it to all affected communities in DRC and the region at large.

Training Local Partners in Community-Based Programs

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DTJ and Invisible Children partnered together to provide an in-depth training to representatives from local organizations in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan to work with local communities on community-based defection efforts. The program includes Community Defection Committees and Mobile Cinema screenings, which target preparing communities to receive LRA combatants when they do surrender. The training included five days of in-depth discussions in Kampala and a five-day field component in DRC where theory was put to practice.

Why is defection important? Encouraging and facilitating the peaceful surrender of LRA combatants is one of the most effective ways to reduce threats to communities in central Africa and weaken the LRA’s ability to effectively operate. Defection is a non-violent strategy to remove the LRA from the battlefield.

The main goals of entire Community Defection Committee (CDC) and Mobile Cinema (MC) strategy is to increase positive defections from the LRA and to protect communities who are still vulnerable to LRA attacks.

DTJ and IC developed a thorough manual which serves as a guide for local partners to facilitate their implementation of the Community Defection and Mobile Cinema program model and as a resource for the theory, methodology, activity and reporting expectations. The program was designed by DTJ based on field research and is outlined in the report “Come out and live among us” which will be released in early December.

Father Ernest, founder of SAIPED, comments on the training:

I see three pillars that are good – 1 is to have a common regional understanding – that these three countries have a common understanding of what CDC and Mobile Cinema is – the 2nd – knowing each other – knowing the capacity of each other and learning from one another. The third pillar reiterates what Fr Mark said – connecting theory with practice – we were able to connect what we learned in Kampala to the realities on the ground. This is the first project linking these three together. Gaining from local experience and local understanding of the problem and empowering local people to solve their problems themselves. Based on this its a very powerful tool – and it goes with my own philosophy of thinking – it is the locals who know the problem better – working with them is the best solution.”

Photograph by Lindsay Branham of field-training component in Djabir, DRC.

Newest Mobile Cinema Production Underway

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Our newest Mobile Cinema film about an LRA child soldier who escapes and encounters a local hunter who has to decide whether to risk his life and help him or not is underway in DRC. The production team is working with a Dungu-based non-profit organization called SAIPED (Solidarity and Integral Assistance to Destitute People). The team held auditions with over 100 people who tried out for the various roles in the film. The final cast is a selection of first-time actors who have all been personally affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict. The final film will be toured in Mobile Cinema screenings by SAIPED and other central African-based organizations along with an in-depth facilitated workshop to educate communities on the importance of defection and how to be prepared when LRA combatants do escape.

The production process itself is highly collaborative – from the story nexus to acting workshops to actual shooting, we lean heavily on our partners to inform the nuance of every scene and every piece of dialogue. We are all very excited for the final product to come.

Photograph of Director Andrew Ellis, co-Director Alex Mallis, Production Associate Margaux Fitoussi and Joseph Vungula and the two main actors, Innocent Mbula and Godefroid Malaka prepare for the scene when they escape from the LRA. Dungu, DRC.

Mobile Cinema Expands to 12 Communities

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Congo movie-33

Our local partner, SAIPED (Solidarity and Integral Assistance to Destitute People) has just finished the expansion of the Mobile Cinema Reintegration program to over 12 communities throughout northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The 8-session program is a community-based approach designed to help formerly abducted children by the LRA come home.

At the end of the program in each community, a community gift, decided between SAIPED and the community was presented. So far, there are multiple small pharmacies now in operation, to provide needed medicine and generate a revenue, and brick machines for communities to re-build the structures destroyed by the LRA.

We are extremely proud of the SAIPED Mobile Cinema facilitation team that braved destroyed roads, the rainy season and other unforeseeable delays in order to bring the intervention to the communities they deemed were most in need.

Preliminary data analysis shows an incredible 60% reduction in trauma and psychological distress symptoms. This means children are reporting being sad less, isolating themselves less, and are being accepted by their peers.

Over 3,000 children in NE DRC have now been through the intervention. And counting.

Researching Community Perspectives on Defection

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DTJ’s Lindsay Branham just completed a three-country research trip to understand how local Zande communities, the population group most affected by the LRA today and who currently live in the midst of the LRA’s area of operations, can also play a critical role in defection – and how they are willing to take on that role and be partners in these efforts.

Lindsay Branham and Margaux Fitoussi conducted over 190 interviews across three countries, utilizing a standardized questionnaire set that looked at everything from community definitions of peace and forgiveness, to barriers to defection, to how current defection actors, including MONUSCO and the UPDF are perceived by local communities.

The final report will be released Dec. 9th that outlines their findings.

Photograph by Lindsay Branham, Mboki, CAR.


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Jean Bosco is Mobile Cinema’s Project Coordinator, leading our local team of facilitators on the ground as they continue to expand the program into 12 more communities across NE DRC.  Beyond his contagious laughter and unceasing positivity, Jean Bosco knows how to get down on anyone’s level and says working with children is, “in his blood.”

Jean Bosco has been a strong human rights advocate. He previously worked as a WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) field assistant for UNICEF, a Human Rights Officer with our local partner, SAIPED, and was a leader for building houses for IDPs (internally displaced persons) in conflict-affected areas in DRC.

Jean Bosco has experienced LRA violence firsthand: members of his family were killed by the LRA and others were forced to leave their home villages and live as IDPs in Duru, where Jean Bosco takes care of them all. He calls Congo a “small paradise” and is grieved to watch members of this community live in a constant state of fear and trauma.

He’s dedicated to ending this long-lasting conflict and bringing peace to the DRC.  When asked why he chose to work with Mobile Cinema, he said: “Mobile Cinema is a very good program. It impacts people so that they could have a better life in the future. The psychological component of the program is a critical part that NGOs here forget.”

Help Jean Bosco bring peace and psychological relief to more communities in NE DRC: Donate to our Mobile Cinema Expansion.


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Space could be the most generous thing we create. Generous in its potential, arduous in its process. In conflict areas, space dissolves into polarities: enemy, ally, perpetrator, victim. And these extremes become the birthplace for misunderstanding, stigma, and hate.  As militant groups, armed groups, and rebel groups war with weapons, the battle for peace in communities is fought out amidst these seas of extremes. Where this unnoticed fight wages, there are no treaties or negotiations to forge absolution. Peace hinges on the perceptions and misperceptions of individuals, trying to respond to and cope with the devastation wrought by conflict in their families, schools and communities. This unusual frontline is the landscape where space matters most.

I have spent a good portion of the last six years in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo trying to understand the reasons why children are used as one of the most disposable tools in modern day war. Dispensable, in numerous supply, and with a seemingly endless capacity for brutality, children are the weapon of choice by many armed groups in eastern DRC, where war has raged on and off since 1998, claiming over 6 million lives in its wake. Through documentary film, photography and working with humanitarian groups, children in armed conflict has become my focus.

A Mayi-Mayi child soldier, Kiwanja, DRC. Thousands of children leave armed groups only to return to fighting due to poverty, lack of opportunity or new flares of violence. 

Lindsay Branham for DTJ

But their stories, like so many others in the developing world, are often exported out of war and onto the computer screens and television sets of the western world. Another kind of export, story is monetized. As I navigated between the industries of journalism, humanitarian assistance and film, the individuals I had interviewed, photographed and written about, from rebel leaders to child soldiers, mothers, fathers, teachers, peace-builders and warmongerers, I started to hear a din of noise rise from their common experience. Can story be more than a vehicle for an endless chronicle of violence and devastation? Could story transcended traditional distribution channels? Does story hold a power that could change and influence the ramifications of war now? Could story actually become a tool for peace?

John Lederach, a professor of International Peacebuilding from Notre Dame’s lauded Peace and Conflict studies program, writes eloquently about how in peacebuilding, one of the most strategic ways to pursue peace is to, “circle to truth through story.”

These concepts of circling to truth through story and the medium of story holding the potential to be a local expression and tool for peace, inspired me to pilot these ideas. I wrote a grant proposal to test the methodology of what we were calling Mobile Cinema, screening locally-created, collaborative films as an alternative way to address such nuanced issues as stigma, acceptance, forgiveness, and peace. We chose to pilot Mobile Cinema in Northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an area plagued by the violence of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Thousands of children had been abducted, and many had escaped and returned home to face yet another set of challenges: reintegrating peacefully into their homes and communities and overcoming negative stigma.


When a child has spent the last year in abduction, forced to witness and commit atrocities, and then returns home only to be categorized as “ex-LRA,” excluded from social circles and rejected from communal life, this child is now without a belonging, and stripped of his/her identity. What if story could help restore a community’s perception of this formerly abducted child as just, child? What if changes in cognition towards this child could result in lasting understanding, empathy and finally acceptance?

And so we decided to create fictional narrative localized films to spark discussions around these ideas; an indirect way to circle to truth through the vehicle of story.

But I wanted to see more than just perception change happen in communities. The levels of trauma and psychological distress being experienced by these children was immense and I wanted to explore if there was a way to combine film with psychology and create a more robust intervention that actually reduced trauma and increased acceptance.

In December 2011, I had the opportunity to address a group of child protection experts at Harvard University’s “Adolescent Rights” conference that was looking at the greatest issues children face and the way forward for us as practioners attempting to address this crisis. Out of this gathering I was introduced to Paul O’Callaghan, an educational psychologist from Queens University, Belfast, who had implemented several psychosocial interventions addressing children affected by trauma in eastern DRC, and his experience and expertise in this area is rare. He was interested by my proposal to use film in a larger psychosocial intervention. Dr. O’Callaghan and his colleagues at Queens University, Belfast adapted an existing psychosocial intervention for the NE DRC context and we decided to partner together to create the region’s first community-based, resilience-focused psychosocial intervention targeting formerly abducted children and their communities using Mobile Cinema.

Before we began, in January, 2012, I headed to Northeastern DRC with Jocelyn Kelly from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative to conduct a robust qualitative assessment of the affects of the Lord’s Resistance Army on formerly abducted children and to lay the groundwork for the future pilot program. We co-authored a report detailing our findings which can be found here: “We Suffer From War and More War: An assessment of the impact of the Lord’s Resistance Army on formerly abducted children and their communities in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.”


We were repeatedly told by formerly abducted children that all they wanted was to return to “normal”. Community leaders experessed distress over the state of children who had returned from the LRA. The levels of trauma were high and they did not know how to help them. We were asked by community leaders to provide tools and resources so they could help these children reintegrate themselves. They wanted to lead the process.

From this qualitative research and at this bidding, the building blocks of the intervention came to being. We partnered with a local organization in Dungu, DRC, called SAIPED (Solidarité et Assistance intégrale aux Personnes Démunies) led by Ernest Sugule and together adapted a psychosocial intervention manual, trained a team of facilitators, identified communities and began the research phase, designed by Paul, that included a series of 84 questions that identified levels of trauma, psychological distress, stigma, functioning, etc. Caregivers were selected for each child participating in the intervention who were asked an additional set of 64 questions to deduct their perception of their child’s mental health state as well as their own. The randomized control trial Paul designed and the entire research methodology will be discussed in a future post.

Concurrently, Ricky Norris, a filmmaker at DTJ and I spearheaded the Mobile Cinema creation. It was critical that we produced localized, collaborative film, where even the very story line was something that came from communities themselves. I led a series of focus groups with formerly abducted children and their families who openly elucidated on their experiences and what they wished had been done differently to help them reintegrate into their communities better. They defined “acceptance” and “home” and “identity” and “normal” for me. From their eloquent and vulnerable descriptions of their experiences, I wrote a screenplay for a four-part narrative film series about a brother, Jean-Pierre, and sister, Marie, who had been abducted by the LRA and were attempting to come home. Each part of the film held specific messaging that fit into the overall psychosocial intervention and the 8-session platform addressing topics from psychoeducation to the role of the parent and community leader in reintegrating formerly abducted children to active participation in community restoration. We then worked with SAIPED’s theatre troupe who had experience producing sensitization dramas, cast the film and went to work filming it. Characters memorized their parts and we adapted the films as we went according to what was most culturally relevant, natural and familiar. The filming process itself was illuminating, specifically for the children who were playing the roles of formerly abducted children. Their identification with an abducted child by playing that character was quite poignant for them.

Upon wrapping the shoot, Ricky edited the films together and we conducted test screenings with SAIPED staff, a local mental health expert and Dr. O’Callaghan to ensure the films would not cause any secondary trauma or elicit any kind of negative triggers. Once vetted, the films were ready to be included in the overall psychosocial program.

Over the next six weeks, we piloted the full program in Kiliwa and Limai, two communities chosen both for their exposure to LRA violence and their vulnerability to future attacks. The pilot program stretched over 16 sessions in each community, and included 320 people. We delivered the quantitative questionnaires at four points in time: before the intervention, after the first round, after the second round and three months later in order to isolate effectiveness and determine longer term mental health impacts as a direct result of the intervention.


The quantitative results we gathered indicate that over time the intervention was successful in reducing depression and anxiety and adult reporting of conduct problems. This was critical since our intervention had a resilience focus not a trauma focus. I will detail the differences here and why this is important in a future post.

But the use of film, in particular, story, to facilitate lively discussions around peace and acceptance and identity happened, and elicited a stronger response than we even anticipated. After each film screening, the facilitators would lead discussion groups, where character’s behaviors would be analyzed and lessons learned would be shared in small groups and then publically in front of the entire group.

Due to the quantitative data, we were able to conclude that the intervention helped to demystify and de-stigmatise the effects of the LRA and provide a platform to discuss this openly, thereby reducing the avoidance and intrusions individual children experienced.

The films, their own story, created an alternate and neutral space for empathy, trust, friendship, forgiveness and understanding to grow organically, between child and adult, formerly abducted child and non-abducted child, accepted and rejected. Polarities were dissolved and acceptance began. The space created through the films was itself a vehicle of peace.

I see space as the beginning of the beginning. The journey continues much further beyond the porous borders space creates, hammered out into the daily life rituals and realities of communities in conflict. But once fashioned into potential, it can always be a safe place to return to. This established trust can become the nexus for unity. And this is what I have seen.


Now our chief has started to fight for the benefit of children who have returned from the LRA.

— Head teacher, Limai

Before, our community was not united. This program helped us to love one another. Now we are starting to be united.

— Parent of formerly abducted child, Limai

And now, we stand on the precipice of another horizon. I am about to return to NE DRC and support SAIPED to expand this intervention to 920 more people in LRA-affected areas. We will work in partnership to create more spaces to circle to truth through story, to seek peace together by reframing the very ways we see one another.One formerly abducted child who went through our program told me that, “this program explained to others to have them stop calling me names. And they have stopped.” What this means for this child is that he is now accepted, that he now belongs, again. This child’s story alone makes all of this worth it. His encounter with equality, empathy and kindness. These things are just as significant players in the peacebuilding process as any kind of formal peacebuilding strategy. Peace is not constrained to the cessation of hostilities alone. Peace for these children could very much equate to the eradication of violent thoughts and perceptions towards them, to an end to their nightmares and scary thoughts and fear. Peace could mean being invited and welcomed back into their communities, to a return to “normal.” Can we not be part of this kind of peacebuilding?This approach works. Our quantitative data is evidence of a better quality of life for people who continue to live within the daily affects of war; they still have to face daily insecurity, but are living with lower levels of trauma symptoms and psychological distress levels. This matters.When we returned to conduct the post evaluation three months after the pilot program, people were still utilizing the skills they were taught during the sessions to manage their own depression, anxiety and trauma, and formerly abducted and non-abducted children were playing together. This space had created a kind of internal peace in these communities, a unity that was being fleshed out by healthier children and families and within the community as a whole.Change is absolutely possible, despite the circumstances that attest to the contrary.Join us as we go back to NE Congo to support our local partner as they serve communities already engaged in heroic work to overcome war. And be part of these circles of truth.

 by Lindsay Branham, Program Director, DTJ