I’ve been to Congo several times, yet it teaches me something new each time. This trip has been no different.

It’s hard to celebrate little victories when you are staring at the giant deficit in any place — Goma is no exception.

But there is an undeniable impact that you, as a supporter of African Leadership, have made here.

Staring at life day in and day out, it’s hard to see change. When you ask a Congolese what changed in the last year, they often say, “nothing.” But where there are hardly noticeable changes to those in Goma, I see real progress from the last time I was here.

One example may surprise you — the prevalence of empathy. In a place where all of life is hard, and everyone has a traumatic story, encountering empathy is rare. So this time — when I saw children sit and listen to their peers, when I saw them cheer for one another, when those who didn’t used to look me in the eye smiled at me and said “hello” — I saw tangible impact.

That’s because these children have been meeting in weekly Healing Hearts clubs.

These are groups led by students in our program that have gone through trauma-healing training. These groups bring together children who have experienced great trauma, creating a safe place for them to mourn, understand their pain, and begin healing from it, together.

Most of them live at an orphanage under the care of a widow whose family was shattered by war. Of nine children, only five are still alive. She spends her days with the youngest babies at the orphanage on her back while she plays with and loves on the others. Why? “I had to quit holding some of my babies because of the war so now I hold these ones.

Empathetic children become empathetic adults.

I’m confident that these children, growing up in Healing Hearts clubs, surrounded by those who show the love of Christ to them, will one day turn into people like this woman who care so well for others.

These children, who wouldn’t make eye contact with me three years ago, now share their pain and display empathy. They articulate the poverty of the world they live in, but also shout hope to one another.

They are building not just a whole heart, but a stable community.

As I watched children throw back their heads and laugh, in a field where days ago rebels clashed with the military and sent these kids running, I knew the Lord had revealed to me once again that Congo has much to teach us.

-Emily Blackledge