“Seeds of Hope” for the Democratic Republic of Congo

By Stephanie Simon
BU News Service

Women rock their babies, do dishes, make dinner and hang clean clothes on the line. Others sit on steps talking while cutting vegetables from their field. Some begin to sing as they work. Many of their children laugh and yell as they play water games under the afternoon sun. Their land is hot and vast, their forests thick and their grand hillsides covered in green. What they eat they have cultivated and nurtured. Where they live they have built. And what they have suffered they work to overcome.

Their home is Minova, Congo and the women are all rape survivors.

The documentary, “Seeds of Hope,” by Fiona Lloyd-Davies is about the complex situation in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Lloyd-Davies is a British journalist and filmmaker and reporter for the Washington D.C. Pulitzer Center.

On the first day of a two-day event called Global Health Reporting: Telling the Whole Story of Gender Violence in Democratic Republic of Congo the Boston University Crisis on Response and Reporting and the Pulitzer Center hosted the 75-minute film at the Boston University, College of Communication. It brought together over 70 student journalists, public health students, professors, and general public.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the DRC is a mineral rich country that has had wars over land ownership, ethnicity, and government since 1996. Lloyd-Davies uses Masika Katsuva’s experience, who she met in 2009, as a lens into what the United Nations has labeled “the rape capital of the world.”

Some of the first words that flashed across the screen were: “48 women are raped every hour,” according to the 2011 American Journal of Public Health report.

“Seeds of Hope” reports that Katsuva has helped thousands of rape survivors and their children—offering them food, shelter, medical care, and education.

“You will see their suffering. My task is to try to restore them to their old selves,” Katsuva said in the documentary.

Katsuva is a victim of rape and so are her two daughters. The documentary reveals that it is something the women come to expect. Since beginning her work, Katsuva has been raped three times and says her strength comes from the women who helped her find restoration.

The audience watched the women’s struggles and joys as they navigate life together. The film often shows them working in the field that Katsuva owns. By the end of film, the audience can see that the women still face tragedy, but continue to move forward and hope for a justice that Katsuva fears will never come.

“Sexual violence is not an isolated thing,” said John Sawyer, executive director of the Pulitzer Center, in an interview after the documentary. “It can be systematic and purposeful. It rips apart communities.”

According to “Mother Jones” in an article called, “Rape as a Weapon,” during times of war, rape has been used to break apart communities and for genocide. The World Health Organization says that women and children who are rape survivors are at high risk of suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
“Seeds of Hope” emphasized that if a woman is raped in the DRC, her husband will reject her, leaving her with no money, food and often without clothing.

In an interview before the event Lloyd-Davies said that she wants people to see the women as more than victims.
“I wanted to give the women a voice. Let the viewers see them. See that everyone is the same, even though they have faced tough challenges they have gotten beyond it,” said Lloyd-Davies.

Sawyer added after the film that the goal is to model good journalism, and that a journalist needs to spend time on a story for it to go beyond superficial.

“Public health people can identify the problem, but journalists can illuminate it,” said Monica Onyango, clinical assistant professor at BU in international health, in an interview after the documentary.

Directly after the film Lloyd-Davies updated the audience on the current state of Katsuva’s work and the rape trials now being held. Lloyd-Davies said that the trials themselves are a step in a positive direction even though there have been difficulties along the way. Twenty-seven attackers have been detained and are facing hearings in court, while five officers from the Congolese Army have also been identified as perpetrators. But, because of fighting in the north, they have been dispatched to lead troops, and have not been present to stand trial.

“The war comes first and justice a poor second I’m afraid,” said Lloyd-Davies before the event.
In her closing statements she said that Katsuva is struggling because some large donations have stopped – she has to continue to learn how to manage funds.

Austin Washington, 28, a theology graduate student at BU, came to watch the documentary because he was interested in women’s rights globally.

“It’s shocking what life is for people,” said Washington after watching. “I’m trying to figure out what to do with the information.”

Lloyd-Davies said that Katsuva is still hard at work with the women in the fields despite the setbacks, and has added 24 new women since September 2013.

“Oh, God we plant these seeds in true faith, protect these seeds and give us a good harvest,” says Katsuva in the documentary holding the seeds in her dirt-covered hands surrounded by the other women on a planting day. “The field provides hope for a better life.”

BeardFest Grows In Popularity After Years of Grooming


February 2, 2014 - Brad Petrinec of Worcester, Mass. watches competitors show off their beards during Beardfest, a facial hair competition in Somerville, Mass. Photo: Taylor Hartz/BU News Service.

February 2, 2014 – Brad Petrinec of Worcester, Mass. watches competitors show off their beards during Beardfest, a facial hair competition in Somerville, Mass. Photo: Taylor Hartz/BU News Service.


By Megan Turchi
BU News Service

Weird beards. Long beards. Ginger beards. Curly beards. Twisty beards. Thick mustaches. Beards made of beads, string, glitter and paper. Old men. Young men. Little kids and even women! They traveled near and far to the Beard Fest 2014 in Somerville.

“This is the 4th year, but started out in Union Square, but we moved it here,” said Gregory Jenkins, executive director of the Somerville Art Council.

Held at the Center for Arts at the Amory on Highland Avenue, old wooden floors creaked as the bearded and their fans walked through the doors of the historic building. The room was quaintly decorated with twinkling lights and paper mâché. Exposed brick walls surrounded the room and there was a purple stage in front where DJ Pace played music with a fake beard and sunglasses, songs that only the hippest of guests would recognize.

Todd Easton, now a volunteer for the arts council, asked Jenkins to start a beard festival after spending a year growing his facial hair.  From this original Beard Fest, the Boston Beard Bureau was developed.

According to the Boston Beard Bureau website, the Bureau is “Boston’s local bearding team (the most rewarding and demanding sport in existence) and a member of the North American Competitive Beard and Moustache Alliance. Our mission is to promote the growth and appreciation of facial hair in the Greater Boston area.”

Many of their members were present and competing, T-shirts and all.

“Last year I lost my title, so I am here to win it back,” said Bert Mayer of Framingham, president of the Boston Beard Bureau and participant in the freestyle full beard category.  “I spent an hour on my beard today.”

There were more people than seats. Many were bearded, many were family members of the bearded, and others just came for the show.  To the left of the stage was a beard making station where children, women or beardless men got a chance to participate.

All sorts of beards and people were present at the festival.  A guy in a plaid shirt, a ponytail, and glasses sported a simple full beard.  Another man in a tight white shirt, classic jeans and tattoos had a beard down to his stomach.  To the left was a guy in tan pants, a white collared shirt, slick down hair, a tie, a vest and a curly cue mustache sticking out to the side.

After the socializing ended, the competition was set to begin, split into 5 different categories: free-style partial beard (goatees, sideburns, and others), free-style moustache, natural full beard, free-style full beard and fake beard.

The competition was a lighthearted affair not short on puns and jokes.  The category was announced, the bearded came up to the stage and walked across, looking at the crowd to the left and the three judges to the right.  They then stood in below until it was their turn to get their spotlight up on stage, where the judges and the host could ask questions.

“Do you have any mustache-related dance moves?” the host asked Sam Treviño, a competitor in the free-style mustache category.

DJ Pace quickly chose a song and within moments, Treviño put his hands on his hips and started moving his feet across the stage.  As the crowd cheered he walked down the stairs back in line with a smile on his face and gave a thumbs up to someone in the crowd.

In the make-your-own-beard competition, women and little kids lined the stage with beards made of yarn, paper, patterns and one even made entirely out of buttons.

“It’s a little Beyonce and a little Colonel Sanders,” said Ava Pandiani, who wore a paper leopard print beard in the fake beard category.

The natural full beard category contained the largest number of competitors.

“Is your armpit hair the same color as your beard?” the host asked Kevin Vargas from Rhode Island in the natural full beard competition.

“No, it’s entirely different,” he responded. “It’s black.”

For many, growing a beard has become a way of life.  Defending champion for the full beard category, Brian Roy, who has a long grey beard and a red “Beard Season” shirt, walked up on to the stage put his hands in the air.

The 2014 Northeast Regional Beard and Moustache Championships will be on August 2nd.

How to Eat an Elephant: the Anthropology of What We Eat

By Poncie Rutsch

With this post I hereby kickoff the great Science Journalism Blog for all ages! And what better way to commemorate this post than with a discussion of two things representing the apex of humanity: food and culture.

Obligatory elephant foreshadowing. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons User Randi Deuro
Obligatory elephant foreshadowing. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons User Randi Deuro

That’s right, I’m talking about a little topic in anthropology called culinary nationalism, meaning that a defining facet of any country’s pride and culture comes from its food. In America’s case, I think it also means every reason why we’re all overweight.

Jokes aside, though, culinary nationalism is more complicated than it sounds. Social anthropology is about traditions and community, so it only makes sense that sharing food would play a role here. But having a sense of national pride in a food – especially in a highly regionalized country like the United States – sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I caught up with Harvard’s Mary Steedly today, where she talked about her anthropology research in northern Sumatra. Steedly has been building an oral history of the region, focused specifically on 1945-1950 when Indonesia proclaimed its independence.

Steedly recognized that her interviewees mentioned food when they recalled momentous periods in this era. Before 1945, when Japan controlled Indonesia in a brutal occupation, her subjects remember watching Japanese soldiers feed the Indonesian rice to the pigs. Meanwhile, Indonesians ate birdseed and corn used for animal feed.

After World War II, the Dutch tried to repossess Indonesia, which it had controlled under colonial rule for about three hundred years prior to WWII. The resulting struggle lasted four years, and went through periods of face-to-face battle and guerilla warfare.

Although the Sumatrans that Steedly interviewed remember this era more fondly than the Japanese occupation, it was by no means easy. The Dutch cut off imported salt, so many remember with disgust eating saltless meat. Every citizen was expected to donate food to the Indonesian soldiers, who recall the rice being red, rather than white or yellow. The rice was allotted in small packets, wrapped in leaves. Banana leaves were scarce, and the substitute leaves dyed the rice inside red – hence, red rice.

All the salt the Indonesians weren't eating. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user McKay Savage.
All the salt the Indonesians weren’t eating. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user McKay Savage.

One woman remembers eating an elephant, not because it was better than eating beef, but because beef was scarce. To be clear, eating an elephant in Indonesia is not a common affair; the interviewee made it clear that while no one she knew went hungry, the elephant eating was out of mild desperation. She recalls the meat as tough and bitter, but also that they had to leave the meat far away from their homes. The elephant attracted flies more effectively than any cow they had slaughtered.

Part of what makes Indonesia a fascinating place for culinary nationalism is that each island has its own microcosm of culture. When Steedly told the story of the elephant to an interviewee from another island, the interviewee responded (roughly) “Different fields, different grasshoppers. There certainly are a lot of foods eaten in our nation!”

But what interests Steedly most is that an estimated 80% of Indonesians didn’t know the meaning of independence at the time. She reasons that they could not have known what nationalism was because they could only imagine what their nation looked like. Yet they still felt a strong sense of pride in their culture.

True, this may be the case in other countries. But at least for me, it’s a very different way of approaching what it means to be part of a community, let alone part of a country. What does it mean to be an American? Liberty, freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. Also, hot dogs and pie on Independence Day. But the intellectual ideas are far more ingrained in my America than any sense of culture. Nationalism looks far better in retrospect.

What is American food, anyway? Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Pat Ossa.
What is American food, anyway? Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Pat Ossa.

Steedly’s research is a different approach to how people see their culture – a kind of grassroots approach that neither confirms nor contradicts the official history. She says that when her subjects talked about food, she knew an important memory was coming. Memory attaches most closely to the senses – smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound.

So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. But I think the same goes for how you consume science. Just make sure to leave everything you can’t digest today far away from your home…because then it can encourage new growth like fungus and bacteria!

But seriously, today’s take home message? Science is pervasive. Even when we think we’re merely fueling our bodies (more science!), we’re also defining history and human communities past and present.

On that note, it’s time for me to consume a very American ice cream sundae and ponder the founding fathers.


As a postscript to today’s post, one of the best parts of living in Boston is the ridiculous number of outlandishly smart people around researching mindboggling topics. Today’s post originated from a lecture series that I had (almost) no business attending…except that it was free to the public. Here at BUNS Science, we’ll be posting our top picks of the area’s events and lectures (science oriented, of course).

Today’s field trip is brought to you by the letter P and the number 14. P for Poncie, and 14 for when this kid finishes her master’s at BU. Twelve more weeks of class, kids!

Cod Industry Threatened

New England fishermen are facing huge cuts in their catch allotments this year, cuts that might put them out of business. Deedee Sun takes us to the port city of Gloucester to see how fishermen and conservation groups are preparing.