A Congolese health worker administers an Ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Centre in the Congo this July. (Olivia Acland, Reuters/CNS)
A Congolese health worker administers an Ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Centre in the Congo this July. (Olivia Acland, Reuters/CNS)
One of 16-year-old Asukulu Songolo’s favorite passages from the Bible is in the First Letter of St. John: “But if one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God abide in him? Children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

Responding to this directive with a maturity beyond his years, Songolo has created a grassroots organization to help individuals in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He intends to provide feminine hygiene products to women who are victims of conflict-related sexual violence and to give educational supplies to children in Congo’s under-resourced schools.

“Why should we sit idly by as people suffer when we have the tools to adequately help and serve them?” said Songolo, a junior at Central Catholic High School in Southeast Portland.

For the teen, the initiative — called the Congo Peace Project — is personal. Years ago his family left the central African nation due to ongoing violence, and he and his twin brother, M’munga, were born in a Zambian refugee camp. The family eventually came to the United States with help from Catholic Charities.

Songolo was inspired to start the Congo Peace Project after watching a documentary about 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege. Mukwege has helped thousands of survivors of sexual violence inflicted as a weapon of war in the Congo and founded a hospital for victims.

“These victims are my people,” said Songolo, a member of St. Philip Neri Parish in Southeast Portland. “The mission and the goal of the project is to see the humanity of another person and to support the women in the best way I can.”

According to his research, many people in the Congo make just a dollar a day, and menstrual hygiene items cost more than that. “To have to make a choice to address their period or have a meal is just absurd,” he said.

Sarah Branscum is Songolo’s honors English teacher at Central Catholic, and she’s been moved by his sensitivity and initiative.

“He’s asking for these items in an upfront way,” and his classmates respect him for it, said Branscum. “It’s so wonderful to see a male student respond to feminine issues in a responsible way.”

Songolo is working with his twin brother and a friend to establish the effort as a nonprofit. He’s hoping local organizations and churches will partner as sponsors. There’s a GoFundMe campaign set up along with an Amazon registry, where people can select hygiene products and school supplies. Songolo also secured a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based Panzi Foundation who will distribute items to the hospital founded by Mukwege and to a Congolese school. In the works are gatherings where volunteers can package the donated supplies.

Collecting school items is another way to aid the Congolese in a practical way, he explained. “I want to empower the students to be the generation that changes the Congo for the better.”

Songolo works on the project in between homework, track practice and serving on the diversity committee at Central Catholic. In college he hopes to study international relations.

He’s grown up in a family that cultivates academic excellence and compassion for others. His older brother Felix collected school supplies for Congolese youths while a student at De La Salle North Catholic High School; he’s now a junior at Georgetown University.

Their father, former refugee Eca-Etabo Wasongolo, describes Songolo as “intelligent, enthusiastic, compassionate, hard-working and self-aware.” When he learned of his son’s vision he encouraged him “to go for it.”

A community organizer in Portland, Wasongolo said he prays all six of his children work to “accomplish their dreams, to help others and to always do their best.”

Branscum wishes Songolo success with the Congo Peace Project, “but it’s also just exciting to see a young adult with his awareness and drive,” she said. “He’s going to make an impact on this world, and we can watch and see what that will be.”

Fundraiser Nov. 16

The first Congo Peace Project fundraiser, held in Southeast Portland, will include African food catered by Black Star Grill, African music, and a viewing and discussion of the Netflix film “City of Joy.” The film documents the work of Dr. Denis Mukwege, the 2018 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work treating victims of sexual assault in the Congo. For more information and tickets, go HERE.

Support the Congo Peace Project

Amazon gift registry, includes a list of feminine hygiene products for victims of sexual violence in the Congo and school supplies for Congolese children.

— To aid the project via GoFundMe and see a video about the effort, go HERE .