Today we took a very long and difficult ride to visit a gold mine. Mining is prevalent in Eastern Congo and remains a key factor in the tragic exploitation and violence which defines this region.
To be honest, we had not really given that much thought to what we would find when we arrived at the mine. When we got there, we were stunned – possibly because of the proximity to Passover the scene in front of us immediately called to mind our experience as slaves in Egypt. We found a huge pit in the ground with water at its base. The mine was swarming with teens and youngsters. Some were no older than 6 or 7: digging, sifting, pouring and climbing.
The children get paid, if at all, only if they find gold and then only at the discretion of the mine owner – basically your local warlord. We spoke with the owner of the mine. He actually told us that he was proud of the fact that he employs the villagers. He told us that he “supports” the villagers by giving them jobs at the mine. (FYI, the poverty in the village adjacent to the mine was mindboggling.) When asked whether he was aware of any child labor laws prohibiting his employment of youngsters, he first denied hiring youngsters and then paradoxically said that by employing youngsters he was helping their mothers, the widows. He told us each laborer gets three small tins (picture a very small bucket) of sand from the mine for a day’s work; if there is no gold in the sand, there is no pay for the work. We were left with the distinct impression that quitting this job would not be an option.
As we continue our journey in this complicated and very sad place, we just can’t seem to get Passover off of our minds. Our ancient forebears sacrificed and struggled to pursue their human dignity and seek freedom from the yoke of slavery. Thousands of years later, our more recent forebears—Europe’s Jews—were sacrificed at the hands of those who defiled humanity; a full generation of survivors once again sacrificed and suffered to regain their dignity and freedom. For both sets of these ancestors and for those in between, freedom and justice could never be presumed, but required struggle, loss and pain.
Our exodus from Egypt may have been the birth of the Jewish people, but our pursuit of freedom and justice is a continuous process which shapes us as a people and constitutes our core purpose for existence. So it is for the people of Congo, and, for that matter, for the people of Darfur. They have suffered and they have and will continue to struggle to be free of their Pharaohs — Pharaohs who are dressed as warlords and militiamen. Pharaohs who rape and destroy women and who steal and exploit children. Were that there was some organization in the time of our Egypt or our Auschwitz which could have effectively helped our people—so many destroyed lives—so much unrealized potential.
As we join ECI, JWW will not stand by and repeat the wrongs that were done to us. We recommit ourselves and rededicate our hearts, minds, and souls, to supporting the struggle of those in Darfur and Congo who seek their personal and communal liberation. Our humanity requires these actions and our Passover compels our engagement. We encourage you to bring our stories and our thoughts for these modern day slaves to your Passover Seder – join us in this important work!