Carsten Korfmacher is a German student from Dusseldorf and a doctoral candidate in metaphysics at Linacre College at Oxford who is in the Los Angeles area this week as part of a 25-state walking and hitchhiking tour of the U.S. to publicize and raise money for the street children of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly known as Zaire or the Belgian Congo).
Monday morning, June 18, Korfmacher sat down with the Mirror at Maxwell’s Café on the edge of Venice to talk about volunteerism, the Congo and the present state of hitchhiking in America.
Carsten explained that it is not uncommon for European students to take some time just before, during or just after university studies to volunteer their efforts for a worthwhile purpose. Perhaps in part because his girlfriend is Tanzanian, his own interests tended toward Africa. He said that a lot of people from Europe go to Ghana or Tanzania, which are relatively safe, but Korfmacher wanted to go where others didn’t.
Volunteer opportunities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are very limited; “there are many NGOs [non-governmental organizations], but few allow volunteers in the Congo” because of the dangers posed by the continuing aftermath of violent conflict following the Second Congo War which officially ended in July 2003.
Korfmacher sent a lot of emails to a lot of websites searching for volunteer opportunities in the Congo, and the only positive response came through His Excellency Atoki Ileka, the Congo’s Ambassador to the Permanent Mission to the United Nations, from a U.N. website established by Ira Simmons and his humanitarian organization, Oneworld Works, Inc., based in Venice, California.
The Second Congo War claimed an estimated 3.8 million lives between 1998 and 2003 “making it the single worst humanitarian disaster since World War II,” said Korfmacher. Today, there are three million Congolese displaced and in need of immediate assistance, and more than half of these are children, he added. In the capital city of Kinshasa – the second-largest French-speaking city in the world, on the verge of overtaking Paris – there are 16,000 “street kids” who he and Oneworld want to help with mobile school and computer lab programs.
Carsten traveled to the Congo last year and will return to work with a first responder organization based in Kinshasa, where he will be assigned to a team that assists refugees escaping the unrest in the east of the country with food, medical care, housing and clothing.
For the present, he is in awareness-building and fundraising mode. “I needed a project that was media-intensive and one in which I could meet a lot of people,” hence the 25-state walking and hitchhiking tour. Korfmacher started in Canada’s Vancouver Island, and made his way down the Western States. He will be in the LA area this week before continuing on through the Southwest, the South and up the Atlantic Coast to New York City.
Carsten has covered about 3,500 miles of his 9,000-mile trip. He says he “thought the fundraising would be easier” but that he feels he’s now “getting into a rhythm” and hopes it will become smoother. The hitchhiking, on the other hand, has been smooth from the beginning. “I have met a lot of open-minded people and have not had one bad, or even awkward, experience.” His longest wait for a ride has been two hours, and “in populated areas it has been very easy.”
Interestingly, he has found his transportation benefactors wanting to talk about “the poor perception of America” in other parts of the world. “I do not think that people anywhere in the world do not like American people,” he observes.
To make donations to support Carsten Korfmacher and the projects of Oneworld Works, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or send contributions to Oneworld Works, 2138 Penmar Avenue, Suite 3, Venice, California 90291, (310.980.4686). Contributions are deductible to the extent provided by law for a 501(c)(3) foundation; EIN is 20-0542322. To follow Carsten on his 25-state walking/hitchhiking adventure you can download his route map from his website at carsten-korfmacher.com.