Photo provided
                                People, culture and traditions of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be celebrated Saturday, June 30 at the Congolese Festival at the Northwest Language and Cultural Center in Langley.

Photo provided People, culture and traditions of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be celebrated Saturday, June 30 at the Congolese Festival at the Northwest Language and Cultural Center in Langley.

Congolese Festival is a chance to celebrate, educate

Last event before Northwest Cultural Center relocates

Northwest Language and Cultural Center is on the move, but not before it hosts one last event at its current location on Langley Road.

A Congolese Festival with performances, crafts, food and information about the Democratic Republic of Congo is scheduled 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 30.

By July 1, the cultural center will be relocated to the Wellington Day School, which is in the Montessori School on Highway 525 across from Crawford Road.

“They’re welcoming us with open arms,” said Executive Director Josette Hendrix. “They are giving us a section of space with an office and classroom.”

Two Seattle-based groups that assist Congolese people are co-hosting the festival. Since its civil war began in 1996, rape, mutilation, mass killing, destruction of property and forced resettlement have torn the nation apart.

“There’s so much abuse of women there,” said Hendrix. “We wanted to bring more awareness to that but also to share some of the richness of the Congolese people.”

Two nonprofit groups, Brighter Futures for Women in the Congo and the Congolese Integration Network, will explain their respective missions to help survivors of Congo’s on-going internal conflict.

A study by the International Rescue Committee estimated that between 1998 and 2007 some 5.4 million people were killed as a result of Congo’s civil war.

“These 20 years of violence have resulted in trauma on a scale that most people cannot comprehend,” said Floribert Mubalama, who formed the Congolese Integration Network to help those fleeing from his country. It links refugees and immigrants to the resources they need and assists with finding jobs, housing and resources.

Mubalama left in 2010. After receiving panicked phone calls from fellow refugees needing help, he decided to form the Integration Network in King County.

Thousands of Congolese have resettled in Washington state and the number is expected to grow, he said.

Congolese are a comparatively small immigration group, so what they’ve experienced and what they need are not well understood to social service groups, he said.

“To respond to the community needs, we need to be equipped and have resources,” Mubalama said. “We need to build influence and make sure we make a lot of noise about our circumstances.”

Women who’ve endured systematic rape in the Congo don’t leave the trauma behind once they move to the United States, Mubalama emphasized.

After learning of the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war, Emma Timmins-Schiffman founded Brighter Futures for Women of the Congo in 2016 to help women and girls still living there.

An estimated 1.5 million women have been raped, and 4.5 million people are currently in a situation of acute crisis in the Congo, a study estimated.

“I started Brighter Futures because I believe that most people would be as horrified as I am to learn about the rape of thousands of women and girls — many instances of which are perpetrated by government troops and barely acknowledged in a judicial setting,” Timmins-Schiffman said.

“So many young people were starting their lives as victims of horrific acts of violence,” she continued. “More people in the West need to acknowledge that these things are happening to real people — to real children — and reflect on how their decisions and actions can start to bring change.”

Residents in many communities across the Democratic Republic of Congo are helping victims of violence at great risk to themselves, Timmins-Schiffman explained. Her organization directs donations to local groups that are assisting women who are often shunned and blamed for the violence they experienced.

The Congolese Festival will also be a chance for immigrants and refugees from the war-torn nation to again embrace their culture with music, dancing and traditional food, organizers said.

“This festival truly meets our mission of education and to better understand diverse cultures,” Hendrix said.

“They’ll be many opportunities for conversations, to share stories from people who are now part of our communities.”

— Congolese Festival is 1-4 p.m., Saturday, June 30 at NWLA Cultural Center, 5023 Langley Road, Langley. Food, dancing, music and more about people, traditions and culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sponsored by Cultural Center and two Seattle organizations assisting immigrants, refugees and people living the DRC. Suggested donation: $5

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