AP Literature MISO (Media, Interview, Survey, Observation) Venture
Seeking the Rewards of Reconciliation
by Jenny F. and Emilie Z.
“He hadn’t made his rubber quota for the day so the Belgian-appointed overseers had cut off his daughter’s hand and foot. Her name was Boali. She was five years old. Then they killed her. But they weren’t finished. Then they killed his wife too. And because that didn’t seem quite cruel enough, quite strong enough to make their case, they cannibalized both Boali and her mother.”
-- “Don’t Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris”
Alice Seeley Harris, English missionary and photographer, filmed some of the atrocious crimes committed in the name of King Leopold II in the Belgian Congo in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In his “blood-soaked tyranny,” the Congo’s rich resources and population were exploited to satisfy Leopold’s lust for power and wealth. Within 23 years, the Congolese population was halved, and over 10 million people died. The hands and feet of men, women, children, coerced into slavery, were gathered by the basket—the only legacy left of the looted ivory and rubber. As journalist Robert Stockton correctly puts it, “this was not a Belgian colony; it belonged to one man, and he seemed determined to squeeze every drop out of his fiefdom while he still could.”
Upon discovering this history of the Congo, we were horribly disturbed by the gruesome historical facts and also the lasting effects on the Congo today. Rampant violence and a faltering economy still plagues the country. Congolese citizens are twelve times more likely to die in infancy and over 99 per cent of the population earns less than the average American. (These facts were gleaned from the website allthatsinteresting.com.) This begs the most essential question: how can the Congolese people, abused to the bones for over a century, forgive and reconcile? Is this even possible?
Something we must concede is that not everyone can heal; not everything can be forgiven. Reconciliation is never perfect, usually difficult, and always messy. Yet while it may seem impossible, history proves that relationships can mend. As part of our investigation of this issue, in relation to our AP Lit investigation of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible, we looked at historical examples from the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. After such horrors, some people in these situations were able to forgive the perpetrators of violence and seek reconciliation.
Learning about this, we wondered about reconciliation in our community, and wondered how we might facilitate reconciliation in the more personal realm. But we didn’t know where to start. How could two high school seniors address such a controversial and complex topic?
After interviewing Mr. Aaron Chowning, Concordia’s high school principal and former resident of Kenya, we started developing some ideas.
“Countries are just like people. Countries are people. They are made up of a sum of people. So for you and I, or anyone who has any type of conflict, the first step to overcoming that and reconciling is all about communication,” he said.
Inspired by Mr. Chowning’s words, we decided that although we couldn’t heal wounds in the Congo, we could kickstart some reconciliation at Concordia right here, right now. We decided to do something that would foster communication and kindness in the high school community.
We began our project for a High School Letter Box as a channel for high school teachers and students to exchange letters of encouragement and positivity. Our ultimate goal is to build genuine warmth and compassion between community members so that understanding and care can build throughout the community. We have created a letter box and placed it in front of the high school office—with envelopes, paper, and pens—to facilitate the writing process. Starting in semester two, we will distribute the letters to our teachers and peers every two weeks during our C1 study hall, keeping perfect confidentiality. In this way, we hope to make a change, no matter how small it may be, for those around us.
This entire journey started with researching and learning about the effects of colonization in the Congo, and it has now turned into a service-oriented project that can change our community for the better. Indeed, anything, any small detail in our daily lives, can be a driving factor to make a positive difference. Even a letter can lighten someone’s day. With that in mind, we hope everyone in the Concordia high school community will consider writing a letter of encouragement to someone else; let’s spread some hope and joy.
Emilie and Jenny are senior students taking AP Literature & Composition at Concordia International School Shanghai.