By Paul Dobbyn
SIMON Chibaloza has survived working in one of the most dangerous occupations on Earth – a human rights activist in the Congo.
Not only has the Banyo-Nundah parishioner survived, but he’s thriving in a range of roles from being an ambassador with Catholic Mission to working as a community liaison officer with Education Queensland.
Mr Chibaloza continues to work tirelessly to enlighten everyone he meets about his country’s plight.
Soldiers and civilians from nine nations and countless armed rebel groups, have fought almost entirely inside the borders of his unfortunate country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo.
The conflict, known as The Great African War, has claimed more than six million lives since the mid 90s.
Mr Chibaloza, then a 13-year-old with eight siblings, felt the war’s impact.
“It was 1996 and I was an altar boy to Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa in the city of Bukavu in what was Zaire at the time,” he said.
“The archbishop was shot and killed by Rwandan forces.
“He was a man who said: ‘We need to stand on our feet and defend our nation, regardless of the price we have to pay for that’.
“As the archbishop showed, sometimes it’s the huge price of our lives we have to pay.
“He was giving refuge to people on both sides of the conflict, telling them, ‘I’m here as your pastor’.
“One day he had children in his car when he was pulled over by armed men.
“The archbishop said: ‘You can’t kill these children unless you kill me first.’
“The archbishop was shot terribly. Then the children were killed – it was barbaric.”
Archbishop Munzihirwa’s example had a profound impact on the teenager who had served as his altar server.
Initially he became a postulant in a Franciscan order in his home country but left after feeling a calling elsewhere.
Several years later Mr Chibaloza would become an increasingly well-known human rights activist.
Eventually he would be jailed three times for his activities, receiving severe beatings on each occasion.
“I was increasingly warned by human rights groups that my life was in danger,” he said.
“The authorities couldn’t shoot me easily because I’d become an internationally known figure.
“However, other strategic ways of getting rid of me such as poisoning were always a possibility – I had to be very vigilant.
“Finally in 2005 I was imprisoned for 17 days and beaten savagely.
“On this occasion, international organisations helped my release by pleading my cause.”
Mr Chibaloza fled for his life to other African countries including Burundi where he was told spies were watching his every move.
It was not until 2009 that he was admitted to Australia on a humanitarian visa.
Since then he’s met and married Antoinette and welcomed four children.
The horrors of his country have given him a powerful determination to help not only those accepted into Australia from his own country but also all refugees.
For the past two years he has worked with Education Queensland helping to integrate refugee children in the Yeronga, Inala and Goodna schools.
“I believe I have something good to give for this community,” he said.
“It’s difficult but very rewarding work.
“Every child deserves a good education.”
Mr Chibaloza also works with Catholic Mission spreading the word not only in Brisbane archdiocese, but as far afield as Cairns and Townsville, about how the organisation is making a difference in his home country.
This he does for about three months a year every weekend.
Faith plays a key role in both his callings.
“Jesus teaches us to love one another and to see Him in the little ones,” he said.
“This approach can be enough to break the hardest barriers – be it different cultures, different religions and so on.”
Still close to Mr Chibaloza’s heart is the plight of his suffering countrymen and women.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Congo has been called the “rape capital of the world”.
Stories are frequently told of rural women forced to make a daily choice – stay home and starve, or head out into the fields and get raped.
Some estimates say 48 women are raped every hour. At least 200,000 women have been raped since 1998.
“I always tell people when I talk about this topic that woman being sexually abused could be your mother, your sister, your daughter,” he said.
“Congolese people need justice. It doesn’t take much.
“It just takes the Americans and the European union to let the Congolese people progress. Yet many of these people are supplying weapons.
“Then there’s the United Nations – we have 18,000 UN troops in the Congo for more than a decade. What have they done?”
Mr Chibaloza described “an international conspiracy of silence and fear” to conceal the true situation in the Congo, in large measure brought about by the greed of multinational companies as they “plunder” the country for its great wealth ranging from diamonds and gold to minerals used in the production of mobile phones and laptops.
“We need people, brave men and women, to go there and stand up and say: ‘Enough is enough’,” he said.
“About 6.2 million Congolese people killed are enough – that’s more than the population of the whole of Denmark.
“And yet people who know never talk about it, they minimise it. That is a crime against the Congolese.”
Mr Chibaloza said the Catholic Church was his main hope in spreading the truth about his traumatised and exploited people.
“This is just a beginning,” he said
“I start with The Catholic Leader and the Catholic Church because the Catholic Church, as Pope Francis teaches us, is a Church that cares for the poor, the neglected, the abandoned, the afflicted.”
The archbishop said: ‘You can’t kill these children unless you kill me first’. The archbishop was shot terribly. Then the children were killed – it was barbaric.