Irene Kamara spoke about A Woman’s Heart for Africa, a project she founded to help the women and children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at a Victor-Farmington Rotary Club meeting March 30.

Kamara was born in the DROC but fled the war-torn country a decade ago and now resides with her four children in Victor. She has not forgotten the poverty and destitute circumstances of those who live in that country. She has taken it upon herself to provide relief to those she left behind through her project.

The DROC is a country in central Africa with a population exceeding 79 million people. It is rich in natural resources but has had a history of violent political and tribal conflict for over 50 years. Its neighbors include the Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Angola. In colonial days it was known as the Belgian Congo. It was known as Zaire from 1971 to 1997.

Since 1996, millions of people have died from the sectarian violence in the area, but none have been more impacted than the women and children. Some estimates state that half of the victims are children under the age of 5. The deaths have been the result of armed groups killing civilians, destroying property and widespread sexual attacks by marauding military groups. United Nations peacekeeping forces have been sent to the area.

Kamara, with support from her church, Mendon Presbyterian Church, created the project because she felt she had to do something. She described fleeing from the DROC to a refugee camp in Uganda, where she lived prior to coming to the U.S. She saw firsthand the violence that was devastating her people. The poverty and lack of adequate medical care, food and clothing had an impact on her. She commented that when she arrived to safety in the U.S., she could not help thinking, “Why me?” She wondered why she could escape to safety while so many remained behind.

In 2015, she initiated her project and returned to the DROC. She took four bags of clothing with her. The lack of essentials, such as food and clothing, and the plight of the children in orphanages hit her hard. She returned to Victor and began her efforts to raise funding to provide humanitarian relief. She returned to the DROC at Christmas with the funds she raised through her project and was able to buy clothing and provide a Christmas meal for over 300 children. She visited an orphanage where the children had little food and only scraps of clothing.

At the conclusion of her presentation, she told the Rotarians the resulting impact of her experiences: “We have to go back.”

For more information, visit womansheartforafrica.com.