Volcano Nyiragongo: the (heroic) solidarity of the citizens of Goma

We reached the Focolare community of Goma (Democratic Republic of Congo) who, like the rest of the people, are living in a state of danger following the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano and subsequent seismic tremors.

Just over a week ago the Nyiragongo volcano erupted.  Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo it is described as one of the most active volcanos in the world. According to the National Geographic, “Mount Nyiragongo is rarely calm and is one of the few places in the world to have a real lava lake in its subsoil bubbling up to the top of its crater”.

Late in the evening of Saturday 22 May, things suddenly began to intensify: large fractures opened up in the rocky flanks, spewing out the fast-moving lava towards Goma, a metropolis of over 1.5 million people located about ten kilometres from the volcano.

“Fear and despair have become part of daily life”, says Asu-Oma Tabe Takang, a Cameroonian focolarina who lives in Goma and whom we manage to contact, “a nightmare that, unfortunately, this city’s inhabitants know all too well.”

Because of the risk of a further eruption, the provincial government has asked the inhabitants of 10 districts of the city to leave their homes. UNICEF has warned that two hundred and eighty thousand children are among the four hundred thousand people expected to be displaced and in need of protection or support.

“The situation is still not stable”, Asu-Oma continues, “and there are still fears of a new eruption. We live in a neighbourhood that is defined as ‘not at risk’, so we are calmer. There are people who have here come to seek refuge.”

How are you dealing with the situation?
From the very first moments of this tragedy, we set ourselves the challenge: to make an effort to live the “here and now”, that is to be aware and attentive to what is happening around us, and not to let ourselves be distracted by worry and fear so as to be able to help those in greatest need.

How have you reacted to this tragedy?
We still can’t leave the house as freely we did before, there’s still a lot of fear, even though life is slowly getting back on track. But through the media we have been in contact with friends, family and all the members of the Focolare in the region.

The initial moments of this tragedy were difficult for everyone, we were in turmoil, in a state of uncertainty. At a certain point, someone posted a message on one of our forums, recalling Chiara Lubich’s experience with her first companions during the war. “For Chiara it was also a time of war but they had made a discovery that changed their lives, that God is love. These messages came like sparks that infused courage in people, transforming also our attitude towards the sufferings, the discomforts, but also towards the people around us, especially those suffering the most. Our mobile phones were full of messages and experiences.  It was a real chain of solidarity.                   

In what sense?
A chain of solidarity is made up of small acts of attention, kindness, tenderness and charity practised anywhere and by anyone: by those who have had to leave their homes, as well as by those who were able to stay.  It was thanks to this support that our hearts, but also our homes, became places of welcome.

One morning we received messages from some friends and acquaintances who were worried about us, advising us to leave the city. We received a phone call from a person who had to evacuate because her neighbourhood was at high risk. She was getting ready to leave but had no idea where to go. At that moment I had a thought: “I’m safe and I’m thinking of leaving, but this person who has to leave her home has nowhere to go?” I shared this reflection with the focolarine, and we decided to remain in the city for all those who would need us. So we called this person, offering hospitality in the focolare to her and her children.

These simple gestures of care are generating relationships of reciprocity between people, even between strangers, making us experience peace and serenity.

At one point there was no more light or water in the city, and our doorman, who had confided in us how impressed he was that we had decided to stay, did everything he could to ensure we had some water.  So he went to a neighbour and said: “they can’t stay without water” and they did everything they could to make sure we had plenty of water!

The disaster also affected 17 villages…
Hundreds of houses, schools, health centres and even an aqueduct have been destroyed. There have been 37 confirmed casualties, a number that may increase in the coming days; some people burnt to death, others killed in road accidents during the chaotic evacuation.

Throughout this time we have tried to stay close and pray with and for all the families who have lost everything or their loved ones, as happened to three families from our Focolare community who lost everything under the lava.

We asked ourselves what we could do to alleviate at least some of their pain. So someone from the community offered her land to build a temporary home for each of these families, to ensure that they could live together and be close to each other. We are also witnessing moments of great generosity.

Edited by Lily Mugombozi and Ghislane Kahambu



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