Meet Father Ernest: the national coordinator of SAIPED, one of Invisible Children’s closest partners in DR Congo. Father Ernest and his team at SAIPED were vital to the creation of our community resilience programming including the Community Defection Committee and Mobile Cinema programs, and continue to work alongside Invisible Children to improve community led responses to mitigate insecurity And we can’t think of anyone better for the job.
We first met Father Ernest in 2012 when he and his team at SAIPED joined Invisible Children and our friends at Discover the Journey to create what is now our mobile cinema program. Through the forum of Community Defection Committees, mobile cinema help to sensitize community members to what LRA defectors face and encourage them to safely assist defectors who have escaped to their community.
We asked Father Ernest what inspires him to continue his work in LRA-affected communities. He told us a story of a young woman he knows whose strength and resilience motivates and inspires him every day. At just twelve years old, this young woman was abducted by the LRA and forced into sexual slavery. After two years in captivity, at just fourteen years old, she managed to escape with her eight-month-old child who she had given birth to while in the bush. When she was finally free, she came home to discover that her parents had been killed by the LRA. She, like many LRA escapees was alone with a child of her own, and no way to pay school fees to return to her education.
Father Ernest decided to pay for her school fees himself so that she could graduate, and also took care of her child from time to time. Next year, Father Ernest told us that she will begin nursing. Having had the support of local leaders like Father Ernest, her future, and the future of her child, is bright, despite what she has been faced with.
“I am so passionate about the work SAIPED is doing,” he says, “because it is really bringing joy and hope where there is despair and bitterness.”
It’s easy to see Father Ernest’s passion in the work he does every day to support Community Defection Committees. Every day, Father Ernest and everyone at SAIPED dedicate themselves to educating local community members on how to accept LRA defectors safely into their communities, and also on why they should do so. Because of this work, communities are actively engaged in dismantling the LRA from within. Members of Community Defection Committees will often create flyers and send messages to LRA fighters encouraging them to escape and when LRA members do escape, the committees play a key role in helping them return home.
We are so honored and grateful to work with Father Ernest, the folks at SAIPED, and all of our other community partners throughout central Africa. We know that visionary leaders like Father Ernest hold the keys to lasting solutions to violence and our work wouldn’t be the same without the deep, meaningful relationships we have created with local organizations.
Recently, Father Ernest shared that he feels the same way. He told us, “SAIPED and myself will always be by the side of Invisible Children.” We can’t thank them enough.