Their faces were washed with wonder. The 12 foot inflatable screen dwarfed the doorway of the catholic church we were meeting in, the only formal structure in the community. 40 children and 40 parents sat patiently on wooden benches near the floor and stared expectantly at the foreign creation that had erected itself in their church. Justin, one of DTJ’s four intervention facilitators, explained that the story they would see was fiction, but based on real life, their lives. In a dim brick church sanctuary, slants of light coming in through vertical openings in the brick wall cast diagonal light on the cement floor. The projector turned on, throwing thousands of tiny lights onto the blank white screen and the very first Cinema Mobile screening in Northeastern DRC began.
Jean-Pierre and Marie, brother and sister who had just escaped from the LRA, came on screen, and we watched as they were welcomed by their family. The mother gently grasping Marie’s hand in tenderness, the father smiling and holding Jean-Pierre to his chest. A young girl next to me let out a sigh as she watched this scene and buried her head in her hands, a memory sparked or yearned for. The collection of children and adults in the room were silent, fixated on the film being projected in their community and in their language. We watched as Jean-Pierre and Marie faced rejection from their peers, and sat in on their inner thoughts as the art of film invited us to. Heads shook in disappointment as the children in the film ridiculed Jean-Pierre and Marie for having been abducted with the LRA, eyes flashed over scenes that they related to, reactions rose and fell as the film continued. The first film ends with Jean-Pierre alone, conflicted over why the other children don’t see him as a child like them. And then the screen went black.
The suspended magic wiped from the room. The group was split in four and each facilitator led them in a vibrant and open discussion following the story of Jean-Pierre and Marie. One community leader said, “This is our story, this is what we face every day.” Another said, “we have to welcome children who come back from the LRA. It isn’t their fault they were abducted.” After the discussion groups one person from each group shared with the larger group the consensus from their group discussions. We even had a child share in front of the elders of the community, who bravely said, “children who come back from the LRA want to be welcomed. Ask us what happened to us in the bush. Talk to us.”
A teacher in the community asked, “we need help when these children return they act different than they did before and we don’t know what to do to help.”
We hope that over the nine sessions we will spend together that comprised the Family-Focused Community-Based Psychosocial Intervention DTJ is doing in collaboration with Queens University, Belfast with 320 children and their parents that they will be equipped better with how to help. We ended the day with playing a game outside that had everyone laughing together – mothers who had lost husbands to the LRA, children who had been abducted, children who had been orphaned, teachers who have lost the resources to teach, community leaders exasperated by the ongoing insecurity, children who perpetuate stigma, children who are the brunt of it. Together, they laughed and had to work together to make the game work, on equal footing. As they ran underneath each other’s arms holding hands, the symbol was striking. This community already showed such strength and thoughtfulness. They did not abdicate responsibility for these children but began listening to each other, listening to the children, expressing how they could be helped.
After a few test screenings in Dungu with our local partner, people responded positively to the films, but I didn’t expect the communities to so thoughtfully analyze the story and the characters, drawing meaning and depth from what they saw, and quickly apply it to their own context and nuanced challenges.
The process of making the films themselves was rich and collaborative – we worked with a local theatre troupe to cast the characters and created the screenplay from interviews with children who had escaped the LRA and after two focus group sessions brainstorming story lines and adapting to the current context. These films are their films and we can’t wait to return to the two communities on Saturday and continue working together to overcome the many affects of violence.
– Written by Lindsay Branham from Dungu, DRC. Photography by Lindsay Branham