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This Durham Mechanic Bought A Million Acres Of Rainforest To Save His Home Village

Godi Godar (right) with a man from the Lac Tumba region, DRC
Godi Godar

Godi Godar lives and works in Durham, NC. He's a mechanic there. That's kind of amazing since Godar had never seen a car until he was in his 20s.

Godi grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). There was no running water or electricity in his town, Ikoko Bonginda. (Ikoko is in the Congolese rainforest, several hundred miles upriver from the DRC's capital, Kinshasa.)

Godi recalls seeing electricity across the lake, where the missionaries were.

"I remember saying, 'Wow, look at the lights there!' It was a trip."

Godi did not know what was upriver or downriver, but he knew he would leave his village. He says it came to him in a dream.

"I would go far away and then I would be taking care of family back here, I would be sending the money. It was my call, my purpose in life."

He was fourteen at this time.

Godi Godar connected with a U.S. missionary and came to North Carolina in 1987. His village has not fared well since he left.

In the wake of the Rwandan genocide, thousands of refugees and soldiers brought violence and left his people living in squalor. Roving militia units are a common site and the pristine Congolese rainforest is showing the stress. 

Soon corporate mining interests showed up seeking tin, tungsten and cobalt necessary to build electronics like iPhones. Again, the people and the rainforest suffered.

But Godi says that the most destructive issue is international logging companies, who have been decimating the rainforest, the second largest in the world.

But Godi says that the most destructive force is international logging companies, who have been decimating the rainforest, the second largest in the world.

That dream he had as a 14-year-old boy has always been in the back of his mind. In recent years he connected with a small group of non-profits. They have been raising money to help bring fresh water and other necessities to the region.

But their goal is much bigger...audacious really. They wanted to buy back a million acres of rainforest. If he can do that, his people can control the land.

Setting eyes on Ikoko Bonginda

In 2013, Godi Godar returned to the village for the first time in more than 20 years. The group traveled for several hours by canoe upriver.

Godi Godar traveling to his ancestral village in DRC by canoe
Credit Godi Godar
Godi Godar traveling to his ancestral village in DRC by canoe

Godi says the moment he arrived in Ikoko was unforgettable.

"I remember it was one of the best moments of my life. Over 1,000 people were waiting with palm branches. We were carried through the village on special chairs called ipoy and it was a moment of sheer overwhelming joy. We stopped at the church ... and the pastor ... said, 'No longer will we call you Tata Godar, but we give you a new name, Nehemiah, one who returns to help his people.'”

Godi Godar returns to his village
Credit Godi Godar
Godi Godar returns to his village

Godi Godar spent time in the region, and saw both beauty and destruction. They traveled into the heart of the rainforest and saw trees that are hundreds of feet tall and 25 feet wide at the base:

Godi Godar sees trees in the Congolese rainforest

But he also heard many stories of broken promises from logging companies. And many people told him that they had worked for logging companies, but were not paid.

These logs were abandoned in the forest
Credit Godi Godar
These logs were abandoned in the forest

Godi Godar is now back in the states and he's received some great news. His group was able to secure  the rights to almost a million acres of rainforest around his hometown.

But that's not enough. Godi plans to continue his connection in the region. He is now raising funds for new wells.

See more picture from Godi Godar's trip here.  Find out more about the Congolese rainforest land repurchase here.

Carol Jackson has been with WUNC since 2006. As Digital News Editor, she writes stories for, and helps reporters and hosts make digital versions of their radio stories. She is also responsible for sharing stories on social media. Previously, Carol spent eight years with WUNC's nationally syndicated show The Story with Dick Gordon, serving as Managing Editor and Interim Senior Producer.
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