Pulitzer grantee Mattathias Schwartz talks about his investigative report for The New Yorker ”A Mission Gone Wrong" and the U.S. war on drugs.
In June 2013, Russ Feingold, a former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, was appointed U.S. special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes. His mission: to end the civil war that has long engulfed the region. Doing diplomacy in a place few Americans can find on a map is an odd career choice for a politician best known for his liberal politics and his decade-long crusade, along with Republican Sen. John McCain, to reform the way politicians raise and spend money. But quietly, Feingold had also established himself as an authority on Africa.
In late January 2014, Feingold led an American delegation across Congo. He met with civil society members, local government officials, human rights researchers and UN peacekeepers. The goal, broadly speaking, was help to get the Congolese government to start acting like a state. Only when the government gains control over, and legitimacy in, eastern Congo will there be a chance for permanent peace.
Child Soldiers: Kill or Die
In the forests on the border between DRC Congo and Rwanda are still hundreds of child soldiers fighting with the rebels groups such as FLDR and RUD-Urunana. Most of them were kidnapped from their villages and families, and now they have to fight against their own country in a war that the rebels groups will likely never win.
Some of them, occasionally, manage to escape from the forest and find a shelter in Musanze, in the northern province of Rwanda, at the Muhoza Child Ex Combatants Rehabilitation Centre. Here, there are about 30 former child soldiers, with ages ranging between 13 and 18 years old, trying to return to their normal lives.
Emmanuel, Innocent, Jean, John and Martin are among these men. Pulitzer Center grantee Tomaso Clavarino met them, and here are their stories, which are full of violence, in a country that seems to be pacified but is still pervaded by strong tensions.
Dominic Bracco and Jeremy Relph make their living by telling tough stories.
The journalists have reported together from two of the most violent cities on earth: San Pedro Sula, Honduras and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Dominic’s photography spans several continents and brings to life everything from the plight of traditional fishermen in the overfished Sea of Cortez to the effects of gun violence in Washington, D.C. Jeremy has written dispatches from field hospitals in Misurata, Libya and expat watering holes in Kabul, Afghanistan.
So when we scheduled a full week of D.C. education outreach with both Dominic and Jeremy around their Pulitzer Center project “Aqui Vivimos,” which examines the culture and politics behind Honduras’s astonishing rates of violence, we made sure to consider carefully how they would present that work to young people.
But Dominic and Jeremy guided the conversations by doing what they already do so well as journalists: dissecting complex scenarios to find their root causes.
“You guys probably know that there are some bad guys doing bad things,” Dominic said in his opening to fourth-graders at Powell Bilingual Elementary School. “Do you know why people might do bad things?” Hands shot up. For money, students responded, maybe for food if they needed it, or for revenge. “When you get bullied, you might turn into a bully too,” observed a student in the following session.
Dominic, based in Mexico City, spoke with students in Spanish and English throughout the week. Both he and Jeremy – based in Toronto – explained in straightforward terms the complex forces that have swelled the numbers of Honduran immigrants to the United States since a military coup ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 2009.
The journalists spoke with nearly twenty classes in those five days. They also gave an evening talk at the Pulitzer Center with fellow New Yorker contributor and Pulitzer Center grantee Mattathias Schwartz.
Read more about our favorite moments of the week-long visit, written by Education Coordinator Amanda Ottaway. Images by Social Media Editor Rebecca Gibian.
Dr. Kasereka “Jo” Lusi, an orthopedic surgeon who performs much needed operations in the war-torn region of Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo, is also a forceful advocate for women’s rights.
“If you assist women and children you have begun to deal with the health of a nation,” he said. In a country where “raping a woman is like nothing,” he added, “we must show women their rights and teach the men.”
Lusi believes that “healing is about more than surgery or pills.” He has put that philosophy to work in one of the world’s most troubled countries, devoting four decades to the practice of holistic medicine.
Until her death two years ago, his partner in that work was his wife Lyn, an Englishwoman Lusi met in 1974 when she came to Congo to teach. The two worked in a hospital and in schools in the northeast of the country for many years. In 2000, they founded HEAL Africa, which became the region’s premier teaching hospital in Goma. The HEAL in HEAL Africa stands for Health, Education, Action and Leadership.
The ongoing conflict in eastern Congo has destroyed villages, displaced thousands, and made women more vulnerable to rape. Between January and July 2013, UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) registered 705 cases of sexual violence in the region, including 619 cases of rape. Rebel groups and the Congolese army were responsible for most of these. Of the 705 reported cases, 434 were perpetrated by armed persons.
Living in Goma, both Jo and Lyn Lusi saw firsthand the effects of war. While they trained 30 doctors in 11 years, they also treated survivors of sexual violence—4,800 women between 2002 and 2012. Many of their patients suffered from fistula tears, the result of rape or childbirth trauma, and HEAL Africa’s doctors became renowned for their expertise in fistula repair.
Women who come to HEAL Africa for medical care receive far more. “We treat her body, but we also give her skills,” Lusi said. Some stay in residence during their recovery. They take part in vocational training, learning skills such as sewing and ceramics, and they are encouraged to sell their crafts. There’s even a classroom and a teacher for small children.
Women are also taught literacy skills and given access to micro-credit loans. “When a woman is illiterate, she lacks confidence,” Lusi said. “When a woman is absolutely poor, she lacks confidence. Women must become interlocutors with their husbands.”
The influence of HEAL Africa is felt far beyond the borders of Goma. Nurses and birth attendants are sent into villages to provide medical assistance. Mothers who may have had to rely on “the village woman” for delivery now for the first time have other options.
When Lyn Lusi died of cancer on March 17, 2012, she was mourned not only by her family, but throughout the nation. Lusi continues the work she left behind. He likes to say, “Healing is like making a big salad with many ingredients.” He does it with gusto.
Images and story by Pulitzer Center contributing editor Kem Knapp Sawyer. Learn more through her project “Congo’s Children.”
In the February 2014 edition of Photo District News, Pulitzer Center grantee photojournalist Louie Palu tells how he came to document the drug war raging along the U.S.-Mexico border after covering other wars around the globe. He started with research and by asking questions: If journalists were covering the drug war at all, how were they covering it, what was missing from that coverage and why were conflicts in other regions covered more extensively?
His work “became something more than just understanding the violence. It was about understanding how the violence happened and what were the mitigating factors that let that violence happen,” Palu told PDN’s Dzana Tsomondo. He said that what was going on in Mexico is “much bigger than what people really understand,” for example with the government not in control of large portions of territory.
"With this work, what came to mind most was how the war was being documented, talked about and represented with pictures in the media," Palu said in the PDN interview. "It became a project about questioning what we see, what we don’t see and who are the gatekeepers that control this."
As a result of his research and reporting, Palu decided to produce a 15x12 inch “conceptual newspaper,” Mira Mexico. Palu will distribute Mira Mexico at school events, museums and galleries to increase in-depth exploration of the drug war. It also allowed Palu to decide what would be included and to avoid the kind of cropping and editing of his work that he had experienced as a conflict photographer in Afghanistan.
Read more of Palu’s PDN interview. To see Palu’s photos featured in Mira Mexico and more of his coverage of the Mexican drug war, check out his Pulitzer Center project, Drawing the Line: The U.S.-Mexico Border.
by Pulitzer Center intern Quinn Libson.
As international powers prepare to hold Syrian peace talks in Switzerland, prospects for a settlement appear slim. Reese Erlich presents a video report from Damascus.
Read more of Reese’s reporting on how Assad hangs on here.
This Week: The Atlas of Pentecostalism
An innovative new project explores the remarkable growth of Pentecostalism around the world. Each day, an estimated 35,000 people join a Pentecostal church. Of the world’s two billion Christians, a quarter are now Pentecostals—up from just 6 percent in 1980.
The Atlas of Pentecostalism developed by Pulitzer Center grantees Bregtje van der Haak and Richard Vijgen is a unique and dynamic online database that maps an expanding global religion as it evolves. The project uses global crowd-sourcing, big data—and an immersive video documentary on a Pentecostal church in Nigeria that routinely draws congregations of half a million people.
On the Pentecostalism project we are collaborating with the University of Southern California. It’s part of a three-year project undertaken with support of the Henry Luce Foundation, aimed at exploring the intersections of faith and public policy and drawing on the expertise of Pulitzer Center partner universities.
At the Pulitzer Center we are keenly interested in developing new forms of journalism to tell important but often complex stories, and to bring those stories to the broadest possible audience. For an introductory walk-though on how the Atlas works, click here.
ENDING A WAR
Barely two years after the last American combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq and nearly a decade after more than 100 U.S. soldiers died in the battle for Fallujah, the strategic city in Anbar province has again been captured by Sunni insurgents, many of them with ties to Al Qaeda.
This sends a deeply pessimistic message to Afghanistan, which is awaiting the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops at the end of this year. Pulitzer Center grantee Jeff Stern has been in the country for several months on a long-term project that looks at the legacy of America’s war in Afghanistan by chronicling how it ends. Jeff has spent time with Afghanistan’s most vulnerable groups—women, ethnic minorities, youth, businesses dependent on the foreign presence—to see how they are preparing for life after the U.S. withdrawal.
In the latest installment, for Foreign Policy, Jeff speaks with Shabnam, 25, a therapist in a drug addiction treatment center in Kabul.
“Right now, there are organizations working against drug sellers, working against people who are importing, using, producing drugs, but when the foreign forces leave, there will be insecurity,” Shabnam tells Jeff. “And that insecurity will increase the rate of drug sellers and drug users and drug importers. That’s a big concern.”
While the Obama Administration “pivots to Asia,” China has signaled a pivot of its own—to Africa.
Writing for The American Interest, Pulitzer Center grantee Jacob Kushner notes that “when Xi Jinping pondered which foreign region to visit first as China’s newly appointed President, he wasn’t swayed to a mineral-rich Australia, a thriving Singapore or steadfast North Korea. Instead, his careful calculations took him to Africa. After a brief, almost obligatory stop in Moscow, he flew to Tanzania, South Africa and Congo-Brazzaville, where he promised $20 billion in new credit to finance infrastructure and agriculture in Africa over the next three years.”
China passed the U.S. as Africa’s main trading partner in 2009 and the gap continues to widen. Some two months after Xi’s visit, President Obama made his first extended visit to Africa after more than four years in office. “The sign of America’s lagging commitment to Africa was not lost upon Africans,” writes Jacob.
Until next week,
Tom Hundley, Senior Editor
Journalist Jenna Krajeski discusses her project “Opportunity and Oppression in a Divided Kurdistan.”
From June 2012 through early 2013, Krajeski traveled from Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey to Erbil in northern Iraq, through the border towns and mountains along the way.
She reported from the deeply politicized refugee camps established in the 1990s for Turkish Kurds; new camps where young Syrian Kurdish men were being trained to fight by the Kurdistan peshmerga forces; and the mountains where guerillas ate stuffed peppers in a makeshift graveyard. In Erbil she talked to politicians and businesspeople, trying to understand how the burgeoning relationship between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan might impact Kurds living in Turkey.
Presidents, Congress and “The Road to War”
Slate’s William Dobson reviewed Pulitzer Center Senior Advisor Marvin Kalb’s “The Road to War” for the Washington Post:
In his timely book, “The Road to War,”veteran journalist and diplomatic correspondent Marvin Kalb explores the tangled history of the foreign policy commitments that modern presidents have made and the knots these leaders have turned themselves into trying to rationalize or escape their words. The fact that these commitments, whether uttered privately or publicly, are often no more than words, rather than congressionally approved resolutions or declarations, is one of their defining features. Indeed, on only five occasions have American presidents requested declarations of war from Congress, the last being Franklin Roosevelt’s action during World War II.
In his national address Tuesday night, Obama said that “for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.” That’s true — and presidents have generally preferred to make this work a solo project.
The lengths that a president will go to keep his military interventions at a safe remove from Capitol Hill are well known but no less absurd. Harry Truman played down his dispatch of U.S. troops to the Korean Peninsula as a “police action . . . to suppress a bandit raid.” Three years later, Kalb notes, more than 54,000 American soldiers had died. Although he wrestled with his constitutional obligations more than most presidents did, Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to lie to Congress about U.S. involvement in Vietnam when he committed the first small detachment of B-26 bombers and Air Force personnel to assist French forces there.