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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.