From the Jungle to the White House
By Jean de Dieu MUKUNZI
Fifteen years ago I was lost in the second largest jungle in the world, the Congolese Equatorial Jungle, because of the Rwandan genocide and Rwandese refugees’ mass killings in Congo. I had no access to salt, to soap, to a bed… I was hopeless, homeless, and lifeless. The jungle in which I was staying is beyond imagination. It is often compared to Amazon Jungle in South America. I lived an inhumane life during those 7 months in the jungle; the genocide, the jungle and mass killings I talk about today is beyond description. But God is powerful and almighty. So you can only try to understand the tears of joy I shed when I found myself walking the hallways of the White House and standing in the majestic home of the United States of America’s Congress, the Capitol building. God is great.
In 2008 I came to the U.S. for a Master’s Degree in Public Health. At the end of my MPH studies, I came to Washington DC to be an intern with the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. My weekly schedule was guided by my academic, professional and social learning objectives that I set before the beginning of my internship.
On the academic side, I increased my knowledge of the disability rights movement in the U.S. and around the world. I was able to learn a lot about the American Disability Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The USICD Disability Rights Educators trained me on the CRPD and I think that I will use the lessons I learned to support not only the disability rights movement in the U.S., but also in the four corners of the world, especially in developing countries.
I was also able to participate in different events such as the National Council on Independent Living Annual Conference and the ADA Anniversary on Capitol Hill. During these events I met many people who played a very big role in the disability rights movement. I learned a lot from them, and from their inspiration, I dream of bringing the same movement to developing countries, especially in Africa. In addition to these events, I had a great many meetings with leaders of different organizations; meetings which increased my professional network.
My daily contribution to USICD was the update of the Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL), a library designed to enable disability rights advocates to transform society, especially those in developing countries where internet access is unavailable or slow. I updated this library by finding important resources in English, French and Swahili and then cataloging them to be ready to be used by deployment sites.
This internship has been an opportunity to open my social academic and professional mind. I had a good time in DC and I will miss the professional, committed and hardworking staff of USICD, but hope we will stay in touch.
We are blessed to be born during a high technological era. I am confident that I will maintain the strong network of friends and colleagues.