Since 1996, Rwandan and Ugandan incursions and two civil wars have left more than 6 million people dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Formerly Zaire and now known as DR Congo, the area is still plagued by violence. Goma, which sits on the border with Rwanda, has been particularly hard hit.
Refugees from the Rwanda genocide poured into the area in the mid-1990s. Ongoing violence between Hutu and Tutsi factions followed, leading to the two civil wars. Main roads were destroyed and remain unrepaired. Despite a truce in 2003, outbreaks of violence are still commonplace.
Leitz met Congolese filmmaker Petna Ndaliko Katondolo through his wife Cherie Rivers-Ndaliko. Rivers-Ndaliko holds a PhD from Harvard and focuses her scholarship on arts interventions in the DR Congo. Katondolo is an internationally renowned Congolese filmmaker and activist. Leitz, before transferring to the College of Arts and Sciences this past winter quarter, spent a year at Lake Forest College where she organized a screening of Katondolo’s film, Jazz Mama, and met the filmmaker. She traveled to Goma last fall.
In 2000, Katondolo founded Yole!Africa’s Goma Center, which offers arts training, facilities and workshops each year to 24,000 youth in eastern DR Congo. In October, the organization produced its sixth annual Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF). Leitz worked to obtain screening rights, assisted the directors and organized various events for the festival.
As there is no movie theater in the city, all films are shown in a tent called "Lumumba Hall." Last year, the festival exhibited 30 films, including films from the United States, South America, the Middle East and Europe. In addition to the screenings, SKIFF sponsors an opening night gala, a dance competition and an open air concert. More than 15,000 people attended in 2011.
“Yole!Africa operates as a platform for exchange and a place for youth to come together and connect regardless of race, gender or social status," says Leitz. “Being the first cultural center in a community that has been through so much conflict, it is looking to the future and encouraging an alternative to violence.”
Now firmly settled at SU, Leitz is majoring in Liberal Studies with a minor in Global African Studies. In June, she returned to Goma to volunteer for the seventh annual Salaam Kivu International Film Festival, July 6-15. Next year, she hopes to bring African films and speakers to campus.
Since arriving in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the fall Allason Leitz has been actively promoting the arts and a film festival through her work with the Yole!Africa arts and cultural center.