If you read the articles written about the Central African Republic in the international newspapers you would read of the recent bloody attack in the town of Alindao, the weakness of the international community and the insufficient humanitarian funds leaving thousands of people at risk of dying. You would read warnings about a full blown war on the verge of breaking out once more and the same questions asked over and over again; what should we do? What can we do? What is the next step?
Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, is a bustling town settled in between the rolling hills along the OuBangui river. As I am writing this the rainy season is drawing to its end and the trees on the hills are deep green, birds are busy catching insects and flowers are growing seemingly overnight, invading the city with lush vegetation. The roads are covered with red mud and the river is dark bulging and rushing past over big grey rocks. Fishermen fighting the current in wobbly dugout canoes as they cast their nets. In a couple of months this place will look a lot different, the river will be low and big sand banks will appear, looking like exotic islands with sparkling white sand in the clear water. The fishermen will be wading out into the water to collect their nets. The grass and bushes will be crumpled up and the bushfires will have swallowed most of them. The mud on the roads will have dried up and instead of thick red drips splattered on walls, cars and by passers the city and its inhabitants will be covered by a thick layer of dust.
Although it’s a nation’s capital most of the city does not have electricity nor running water. The few paved roads represent an obstacle course of potholes and most of the governments administration buildings are empty shells; a last lingering breath of colonial days. Hospitals lack medicine, the majority of schools are still closed after the many years of violence leaving children to grow up without the ability to read or write. After centuries of weak governance and cyclical violence the legitimate private sector is almost gone and for the handful educated Central Africans left in the country (most of them has left to seek opportunities elsewhere) the only option is getting a job with the United Nations or one of the humanitarian organizations. For the large majority there are no employment options.
The people here are kind, despite this place’s violent reputation.
If you came here on a calm day and didn’t know, the only way you would understand that the conflict is still ongoing, is seeing the blue helmeted United Nations peacekeeping soldiers patrolling the streets, the helicopter hovering low over the city or noticing people flinch and duck for cover at the sound of something that could be a bullet or an angry mob gathering.
If you would talk to people on the streets you would quickly understand that the violence is still ongoing; dividing neighbourhoods, creating no-go areas and still raving havoc that regularly force entire communities to leave their homes and take up temporary shelter in another part of town. Under the surface of a calm everyday life with markets, busy streets and bright yellow taxis honking from the first daylight the wounds of the conflict lay bare and still pulsating.
If you would speak to people they would tell you – tell you about horrendous atrocities committed to them and their families, stories of physical violence, fleeing their homes, losing their few belongings and struggling to find food.
They would in the same breath tell you about this new business they have just started selling charcoal on the side of the road, how they are excited about going to a wedding this weekend, or how they are happy they could find enough money for one of their children to go to school this month. Women and men do the best they can to find ways to find food and housing for their families. Even when things are bad in certain neighbourhoods music still plays loud in others, weddings still happen, small road side restaurants still serve grilled goat meat and children make up games like children do all over the world, every day. In the middle of war - an everyday life continues.
The stories we tell matters. The stories we hear matters.
And even though the grim, desperate and often discouraging story of CAR needs to be heard so does the stories of the everyday heroes living within her borders. We cannot immediately change the political context of this country, reverse the meagre funding situation or navigate an intricate geopolitical conflict that dates back centuries.
With every choice we make we chose the stories that our lives tell.
Believing that self-relience and independence is the most important factor of change in a community we started Ndara. Ndara employs Central African men and women to make beautiful handmade homewear and to tell their stories to the world. Through trade we aim to support resilient and skilled Central Africans through steady income, skills training and business development. We train entrepreneurs, expand markets and promote craft traditions because we believe that business is the only sustainable way to empower people and communities.
Our homes tell a story.
Every rug, piece of clothing or equipment in every one of our homes – began somewhere in the world. Was made by someone in the world, and somehow changed a bit of the world – for better or for worse. What if we chose to live lives and make choices that tell a story of fair trade, of resilience and empowerment. Stories that help a mother support a child, a sister to pay for schooling, a father to put a roof over the head of his family.
We cannot change the Central African Republic today or help every person the way they deserve.
We cannot change the institutional limitations and political charades.
But we can tell you a story that you want to know; want to retell. Not only a story of devastation and hopelessness, but a story that lifts up the unsung survivors of an everyday life in one of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries. The mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who against all odds try and try over and over again to rebuild what has been broken far too many times.
So to the many “What should we do? What can we do? What is the next step?” we answer what if we would simply start with our voices paying tribute to efforts of the everyday survivors and our actions directly supporting men and women working hard to find ways to rebuild their families and communities.
Born and raised in the Central African Republic and permanently living in Bangui since 2006 she has started three businesses and cofounded one conservation organization in the country. Charlotte stayed in Bangui throughout the war and kept the businesses working through the turmoil together with her dedicated staff. She is committed to put her education, experiences and resources towards establishing incubator businesses that will contribute to sustainably push the Central African economy forward and support its population before, during and after crisis.