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Congo: Cycle of life

Cycling club gives youth hope amid poverty & violence

The residents of Goma live in the shadow of Mt. Nyiragongo, one of the most active volcanoes in Africa. In 2002, it erupted and destroyed much of the city, leaving 400,000 people homeless. Afterwards, militants from Rwanda and battles between the Congolese government and rebel forces continued the devastation. The majority of people here live without electricity, running water or basic sanitation, and there are no jobs to be had. Armed gangs hide in the nearby jungles, tempting young men with a life away from crippling poverty. The threat of violence is constantly present.

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Despite the bleak conditions, one man is trying to make a difference in the lives of the city’s youth, who must usually work menial jobs to feed their families and often resort to theft. Charlie Makongo founded the Goma Cycling Club (GCC) to give its young members something positive to occupy them so that they won’t become involved in armed groups. When he isn’t working his day job as a human right’s lawyer, Charlie mentors and trains a small community of about 35 budding cyclists. He also takes responsibility for feeding them after their morning training, so that they will have at least one decent meal in the day, and sees they get proper medical attention if they fall ill or take a spill. For most of the boys, the GCC is a beacon of hope that distracts them from their harsh everyday lives.

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The results are truly remarkable. As one of GCC’s young cyclists, Pomba, puts it, “Our father Charlie, gives us the strength to see the future. I know that one day my life with my bike will change, one day all my dreams will come true.”

Charlie has dreams of his own. He wants to expand his project and build a cycling centre with a school, a workshop, and a special training track away from  Goma’s dangerous streets.

But a menacing cloud hangs over his plans. Nyiragono is due for another eruption. A new vent has recently formed in the northeast edge of the crater. It’s just a matter of time.

This prospect doesn’t seem to alarm Charlie unduly, however. When asked if this ominous threat could dash his hopes for the future, he answers:

“We can’t control the volcano, but we can control the boys.... We should be sure to bring hope through cycling. We control what we can control. If you have to run, you run!”