“We have a way of looking at the black body. Do we see it as another human being or not?” says Congolese native Bodia Bavuidi to a room full of mostly Caucasians over the age of 50. “The Congolese have been looked at as disposable people, disposable things.”
It’s Sunday afternoon and she has been invited as a guest speaker at Ryerson University, as part of the 50+ Festival Series presented by the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education.
She speaks after the documentary Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth has been shown to the audience. The 26-minute film, which has aired on BBC, is a brief overview of Congo’s complex history and its current genocide crisis.
Bavuidi, now a professor at the University of Guelph, sits on a stage in the lecture hall and looks directly at those sitting before her.
“The Congolese people need your help,” she says.
Sitting beside her is Rwandan genocide survivor Claude Gatebuke who began spreading awareness on the issue in college. He now advocates peace and justice for the many that continue to be killed, raped or mistreated in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
In turn, he and Bavuidi explain that Congo’s problems are directly linked to the Rwandan genocide, Congo’s corrupt government and the lack of foreign aid. Foreign involvement, as was explained in the documentary, involved the United States supporting Uganda and Rwanda, who then invaded Congo and strategically raped its women.
The film also explained that, as one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world, Congo is exploited for the profit of Western companies producing electronics, jewellery and other consumer products.
Maurice Carney, co-founder of advocacy organization Friends of the Congo, said in the film, “There’s a global consensus that exists that says it’s OK for nearly six million black people to die in the heart of Africa and for us to be silent.”
A few “Wow”s and “Hmm”s pass through the audience as the event goes on.
The lecture, part of a series organized by Programs for 50+, is designed to encourage adult learners to continue “learning, rethinking their lifestyles, community engagement and outreach,” as their Facebook page states.
On this particular Sunday, their community engagement and outreach involves coming up with ideas to spread awareness. One woman in the audience suggests sharing the documentary with communities and reaching out to government.
The panellists agree and encourage the audience to make phone calls to the Canadian government and write letters to MPs to spark foreign aid.
“You are powerful,” Gatebuke says. “No matter how overwhelming distances seem, no matter how crazy this situation seems, you can do something from right here in Toronto.”
NOTE: The lecture series is not only limited to older adults, but is open to anyone willing to learn about current issues, including Ryerson’s undergrads.
[P]hoto: Michelle-Andrea Girouard