It’s been about two months since I returned home from my last trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, since life is busy no matter where you are, I’m still reconnecting with friends. Out last weekend with a friend from college, I described my experiences in that beautiful, haunting country. We talked about the unreal scale of poverty (half of households in the city of Goma have a daily income of 45 cents) and the ongoing conflict that has once again flared up. As our conversation came to an end, I threw out another fact: “Oh,” I said, “and the soldiers there gang rape 6-year-olds.

“My friend stopped and stared at me. “That’s not the kind of thing you just say,” he admonished.

“But it’s reality,” I replied.

Maybe I have become a bit desensitized to the reality of the rape crisis in the eastern Congo. It’s become routine for me to read articles like this, which notes that the number of rapes treated by Doctors Without Borders in the North Kivu province doubled in the first half of September.

Tens of thousands of women and girls have been violently raped, often by gangs, and always with the intent to inflict enormous suffering. Soldiers and rebels will insert foreign objects or fire weapons into their victims’ genitals, and women and girls often suffer traumatic fistulas as a result of the crimes, making them incontinent and causing their families and villages to cast them out.

The magnitude of this crisis is not fully known, and while doctors in Congolese hospitals make valiant efforts to treat the victims, medical facilities and staff are not sufficient to handle all of the cases. The psychosocial effects of rape as a weapon of war continue to be felt long after physical healing has occurred.

After a while, you forget that everyone does not know these facts, and you spout them out as you would facts about the weather, or the cost of an 800 square-foot condo downtown, or the number of bees that have disappeared since last summer.

Many people want to know how they can help those affected by the conflict in the eastern Congo, especially those women and girls who are victims of rape. Here are some suggestions on ways to help, including organizations that I trust to use resources in a responsible way:

–Pray. Pray for the victims and pray for those who attack them. Pray for healing in their bodies, minds, and hearts. Pray that their families won’t cast them out, and pray that they will find ways to support themselves and their children. Pray for peace in the region, and lasting solutions to longstanding conflicts over land and citizenship. Ask your church to pray for the people of the Congo.

–Learn. Learn about what’s going on in the eastern Congo, and tell others. For a basic explanation of the conflict, try the BBC’s D.R. Congo country profile. For more in-depth information, check out the Enough Project’s eastern Congo resource page.

–Advocate. The Enough Project suggests that you write or call your Senator or Congressperson’s office and ask him or her to “support the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) by providing more funding and technical assistance in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and security sector reform (SSR) and press for high level diplomacy, in coordination with our allies, to resolve the crisis in eastern Congo.” You can reach your senators and member of Congress at 1-202-224-3121 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

–Donate. Heal Africa Hospital in Goma and Panzi Hospital in Bukavu are dedicated to helping women and girls who have been raped and who need medical treatment as a result. Both are church-supported hospitals, and both help women in all aspects of their healing. It doesn’t take much to help. At Heal Africa, $10 will buy shoes for five women who have been raped, $30 will buy food for victims of violence living at a safe house for a month and $300 will pay for one woman’s fistula repair surgery. As little as $1 will help Global Strategies for HIV/AIDS Prevention provide a dose of nevirapine, a drug that can prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies at birth. It doesn’t take much.

–Donate airline miles. Heal Africa would love to have unused frequent flier miles to transport personnel. More information is available here.

–Sponsor a child. Light of Africa Network is a Christian organization whose Goma representatives minister to street children and orphans in Goma. $100 a year “connects your child with a loving, church-based child sponsorship program that not only provides an education but will allow the child to hear about Jesus Christ and be encouraged to develop a lifelong relationship with God.” 100 percent of your donation goes directly to support the child–there is no administrative overhead. For more information on the program, click here, or send me an email.

But the most important way you can help those living in the Congo is this: be changed. Let the reality that innocent people suffer so deeply break your heart. Live with the tension that comes with realizing that our comfortable lifestyles come at a cost, and that the choices we make about what to do with our money, time, and energy have a very real impact on other people’s lives.

Don’t be afraid to let this disturb you, and don’t be afraid to do something to help.

Laura Seay is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin currently studying in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She writes a blog titled Texas in Africa.

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