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How comics changed a community and opened the “doors of hell”

2013 September 30

By Wassy Kambale

“I really liked this story. I read the whole comic book and I learned that it is important to stay united to better develop,” says Messo. This father of eleven children is the Chief of the village Kalawa Messo.

By the Congo River, in a village in Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this traditional leader shares with me what he learned from the comic book distributed by Search.

It tells the story of Nsimire, a woman who convinces her husband Mushaga to allow their daughter Mado to go to school instead of being given away in an early marriage. Mado and Nsimire then go on to play major roles in the development of the village.

Chief Messo Kene Kene

Chief Messo Kene Kene

Messo Kene Kene recieved the “Mopila” comic book thanks to a team of the Tuungane Program, a program implemented by IRC, Search’s partner that seeks to strengthen good governance by working with local populations. This comic book was conceived as a tool to raise awareness for the program.

To reach this village, I had to walk along a long dusty path, cross a few rivers, go down a ravine and back up a hill. Only ten hay houses sit parallel to a line of mango trees.

Some children are playing with a ball made of used plastic bags. Three women are sitting on the floor braiding mats. Further away, in a little church with no roof, we can see a few young people beating pieces of wood on a thick tree trunk, while singing local songs.

The village chief got off his old bicycle to take me to his house, a hay house just a little bit bigger than the other ones. I try to wipe a few drops of sweat from my forehead, the result of a long walk under the beating sun. “I really admire the Centre Lokolé,” (the name of Search in DRC which more easily pronounced here than Search for Common Ground). Within a few minutes, the old wise men of the village surround me with their curious looks as I introduce myself: “I work for the Centre Lokolé, in the Tuungane program.”

Visibly, everyone has heard of the Centre Lokolé and of the Tuungane program. Later, I learn from Chief Messo that this is the result of the distribution of comic books in the village, as well as, the broadcast of shows on two local radio stations that are situated ten kilometers away. Search supports those two community radio stations in the territory of Kongolo and encourages them to produce shows on good governance. These shows are followed in villages in the area, including the village of Kalawa Messo.

This village is particularly known for its mysterious hills called the “doors of hell”. In legends, these are stone hills are the temple of the most powerful god of the region, god Nyange. “Our god is very powerful. There are people who came here and obtained great responsibilities in the country,” proudly explains chief Messo. He is the one who holds the secret. According to the village legend, no one can meet god Nyange without first seeing chief Messo.

Despite his absolute and almost divine power, Chief Messo says he changed his perception of women thanks to the Tuungane program. “We learned to give a voice to women. Now they are included in the village development committee, where the big decisions are taken, like the rehabilitation of roads, or the construction of the village school,” says Messo, before leading me on a free tour of the “doors of hell”.

I walk along another dusty path with him and two other village youngsters. A light wind blows and sometimes lifts a few leaves from the ground. The sun is nearing the horizon to remind us that it is nearly the end of the day. Twenty minutes later, the noise of the Congo River waters reach my ears and chief Messo tells me that we have nearly reached our destination and that I should not forget to support his villagers.

For him, the comic book educates and should be available to the populations of even the most unreachable villages. “I would have like that the people of my village receive every publication of the Mopila comic book series. Everyone loves those comic books here.” 

Wassy overlooking the "doors of hell"

Wassy overlooking the “doors of hell”

In front of me lay the Congo waters that prevent me from reaching this god, an imposing stone island that splits the waters of the river in front of me.

I take a moment and proudly consider what we achieve through our work here, and the changes I see right before my eyes.

To learn more about our comic books in the DRC, click here.


Wassy Kambale is native-born Congolese.  He is currently the Tuungane Program Assistant for Search for Common Ground: Democratic Republic of Congo.


One Response leave one →
  1. Chris Preager permalink
    October 1, 2013

    Amazing, inspiring work as always.

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