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Douce Heri, Goma

I have always lived in repeated wars, with all the consequences that come with it. I am rebelling against this.

Douce Heri, for peace beyond borders

Young, stubborn and rebellious, this Goma student gathered young people from Burundi, Rwanda and D.R. Congo to discuss taboo topics and to break clichés and stereotypes that exist between populations in the African Great Lakes district. Douce Heri, 25 years old, a little shy and always with a smile on her face, is dedicated to equity and peace. In the local media of Goma or in the corridors of the Free University of the Great Lakes countries where she runs the student organisation, this young entrepreneur raises admiration for gathering young people from the Great Lakes region in a conference about peace.

The rebel

But where does this ambitious initiative come from? Since her childhood "I have witnessed injustice and repeated wars, with all the consequences that come with it." Born in Bukavu, in the east of the D.R. Congo, Douce knows what the war is. When she was seven, she was already able to differentiate between shell detonations and bullets firing. At this time, the army tried to resist the troops of the Alliance of the democratic forces for the liberation of the Congo (AFDL). The population of the city of Bukavu fled. Douce and her family found themselves on the road, escaping the city by foot:
I remember seeing children alone, dead bodies, injured people etc. I saw people being discriminated because they belonged to this or that ethnic group. I saw families hiding, because of their tribal affiliations, living in churches that they transformed into shelters.
From then on, this ship-owner's daughter has known that she will be devoted to fighting against discrimination, injustice and above all, that she will fight for peace. She waited to be elected representative of the Free Great Lakes University (ULPGL) before putting her project into action. The first step is the youth’s conference for peace in the Great Lakes region. “The main objective was to break the barriers between people of the region. Young Rwandan, Burundians and Congolese glare at each others. I found inspiration in Nelson Mandela who used to say that you have to make friends of your enemies..” , she confesses.

From dream to reality

And her dream came true, from the 4th to the 7th of October 2014, in Butare, in Rwanda. With the help of a few sponsors, almost 70 young people came from 3 countries in the region to exchange thoughts on topics that keep them apart. Douce speaks of this event, with a hint of pride, and a lot of passion. Because she is the initiator and also because she spended her own savings to finance 70% of the expenses. She remains impressed by the absence of clashes during the conference, despite the existing clichés.
The Congolese feared to be poisoned by the Rwandans. We also received several testimonies of Rwandans afraid of meeting the Congolese because they thought they will be mistreated by extremist Congolese. But in the end, we banished those prejudices. Now, a few Rwandans decided to attend Goma’s Universities.
Alain Magru, Congolese student, was present in Butare. He thinks that prejudices between young people are enhanced by the lack of dialogue. “During the debates, we realised that we have similarities in our respective cultures. From now on, we told each other that we were brothers, not enemies”. Donatien Habiragi, another classmate, drew a conclusion: “we spend all our time pointing at politicians, and we always accuse them of a lack of willpower to facilitate peace. But we forget that it’s us, the youth, that make up armed groups who put the region at risk. We do have a responsibility”.

A model to follow

From anonymous to unquestioned success, Douce is from now on famous among the youth in Goma. She fascinates and inspires, and some of them recognise her as a source of inspiration. This is the case for Donatien: “her dedication and her sacrifice for peace is my example. She is a source of inspiration for me. Her charismatic personality fascinates me. I wish that she will rise to the top. I would like to see her, one day, as the governor of the region” . But Douce isn't finished with her initiatives. She is preparing a meeting between the young people of Goma and youth from the neighbouring territories of North-Kivu, in order to cheer up the inhabitants of this region who have been affected by armed conflicts for such a long time. In the meantime, she makes sure that last conference’s recommendations, that she submitted to the local authorities in Goma, are being implemented. "The Vice-governor of the North-Kivu province received me after the conference. He assured his commitment to raising awareness amongst rulers. I am still waiting”, she says.
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