So what are we, average American (or European) citizens to do?
Follow the news
Congo is the victim of both media silence in many cases and media oversimplification and sensationalization. Check here for solid reports on Congo. And then read other news. I have a google news search set to Congo, and I see a lot of different articles. Read them, but read them with a critical eye and don't be afraid to ask questions. The situation is not simple and anyone who pretends it is, is probably trying to sell you an easy solution.
Support better long-term foreign policy and make it an election issue.
We are responsible for the foreign policy of our government. Whether I like it or not, I am an American everywhere I go. People can and do hold me responsible for the foreign policy of my government. It is a frightening reality, especially when I look at American foreign policy over the past decade.
Too often foreign policy only becomes an election issue in the US when we are at war. And then it is narrowly focused on one or two countries. The reality is that our foreign policies have a huge effect on the world, and yet they are often largely unknown and unwatched by the average citizen. (myself including) Bush opposed international justice systems like the ICC and signed non-extradition treaties with many countries, directly erroding the possibility of applying international standards of justice and providing safeguards to human rights in countries that do not protect their own citizens. This has a direct impact on countries like Congo, and many others, who need extrernal safeguards. Obama has yet to weigh in fully on the ICC (see this article). I hope he has plans for a better foreign policy. But ultimately it is our responsibility to put the issue on the table. The American people need to make foreign policy an election issue, and I am not just talking about Iraq or Israel, and I am not only talking about presidential elections. Our congressmen and women vote on many of these issues. We should know them, and care.
Here is one good place to look, scroll to the bottom of this page for foreign policy.
Do your research before giving
Check the finances of any organization that you plan to support. Try to support long term development programs that have a history of success in a given country. Try not to support flashy, single issue, celebrity studded campaigns. They are probably spending a lot of your money looking flashy. Find out how much of your donation will actually be spent on programs. Charity Navigator has an excellent list called top 10 best practices of savvy donors.
Consider supporting smaller local programs and initiatives
They're harder to find, but chances are that you can make a more personal connection and get individualized reports of where your money is going. A little gift goes a long way with these organization!
Buy fair trade.
But check it out first. What does this organization consider fair trade? Ask the same questions you should ask if you are donating.
Which brings me back to SHONA
We are not, by any measure, the solution to all of Eastern Congo's problems. But we are one very real way to touch the lives of some incredible people here in Congo.
Consider buying from us.
Consider having a SHONA party, where you can tell people about the larger foreign policy issues at stake here (we'll hook you up with plenty of info)
and yet also support, real grassroots change in a tangible way.
Consider donating to our education or material fund .
But most of all keep asking the question
Anyone who is earnestly asking "what can I do", and not settling for an easy answer, is already on the right path. I was amazed that when I searched for "ways to help Congo" this morning, I found a couple search results that promised "3 easy things you can do to help Congo". Easy? Whatever it is, don't choose it. Real change takes work.
It takes work to be informed about the real issues,
to advocate for better policy,
and to make good choices about how to use your money and your talents.
As Frederick Douglas said...
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."