DRC: Aid Worker Diaries - Overcoming Violence in DR Congo: CARE Assists Survivors of Sexual Violence

Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Central Africa
Congo (Kinshasa)
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Three women from North Kivu share their stories of how CARE is helping survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in local communities and among IDPs.

1. Feza Mbairwe, Community Organizer, CARE

Feza Mbairwe is a mother of ten children and grandmother of two who loves to cook, spend time with her large family and sing in church. Feza herself is a survivor of gender-based violence and today one of CARE's sexual and gender-based violence community organizers back in her home village of Kibumba. There she helps pass on messages to people in her village on how to prevent and treat violence against women or men.

Feza along with many of her family members and neighbors has recently had to flee her home due to the escalation of conflict in the DR Congo's eastern province of North Kivu. About 3,000 people from around Kibumba left their houses in mid-July and have been staying with host communities outside of the city of Goma for several weeks. Despite the difficulties she faced in being displaced, Feza remained true to her training as a sexual and gender-based violence community organizer. Here's her story:

“One night I left where I was staying to get one last ingredient for supper. I walked down the road and soon heard what sounded like a struggle. I had a flashlight on my phone so I turned it on and saw a young woman on the ground. She was being held down by a man. She tried to get free.

I ran up to them. I pulled the man off the girl. I asked her if she knew the man who was aggressing her; she nodded that she did not know him. Once she said that, the man ran away.

I was disgusted. The girl looked to be the same age as my daughter, about 18. This girl could have been my daughter or my niece. I couldn't just let that man harm her. He got away. Luckily the girl wasn't hurt. I walked her home to safety.

I tell this story to people in my community, both the people from Kibumba and those in the host community where we're staying right now, because I want people to know that they can stop this violence from happening. I learned in my training that it's important not to ignore sexual and gender-based violence. We have to face it in order to stop it.”

I also tell this story to my children. I tell them not to stay out late and to avoid situations where they could get hurt in this way. Many people have already survived attacks of sexual violence, but they can stop it from happening too.”

2. Rose Vive, Gender-based violence expert, CARE

CARE gender-based violence and socio-economic reintegration expert Rose Vive visited Kanyaruchinya, where 30,000 displaced people have been living since mid-July, having fled the intensifying conflict in DR Congo. CARE sponsors health and gender-based violence interventions, so Rose was passing by conducting routine activities with the health clinic there.

On the day of her visit, she was introduced to two women, ages 26 and 28 who had been raped the day before. They were seeking treatment at the CARE-sponsored clinic. Rose could see the women were distressed, so she sat down with them in the small, spartan examination room. Soon they began to tell their story.

“We are neighbours back in our village, just north of here. Both of our husbands were taken to fight with the rebels. We didn't feel safe at home so we decided, along with many other people from our village, to head south towards the city of Goma. We have been here in Kanyaruchinya, for about two weeks.”

Several nights after they arrived, the women were nearly out of food for their children. They have four young children, each.

“We were worried as the day went on that we'd have to send the children to bed without food. Finally, someone gave us a few potatoes. We were so grateful and wanted to cook them immediately.”

To cook the potatoes, the women needed fuel, which means firewood. It was dusk and they set out to collect some wood. But where they were staying wood was scarce.

“We walked a little bit further away and saw a group of men who asked if we were alone. We tried to say that we were with a group of other people to deter the men. We were worried. Several of the men left but two stayed.”

The two men raped them and left them in the dark. The women were scared and traumatized, unaware of what they should do to follow-up. The next day a community health worker told them to visit the local health clinic to receive CARE-sponsored medicines in the form of a “PEP kit”. PEP kits are given within 72 hours after someone has been raped. The medicine helps prevent the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and a number of other sexually transmitted infections and diseases. The women also received psychological counseling to assist them overcoming the mental trauma they'd faced.

The women will also participate in a programme that could help them start a small business so they can get back on their feet after such a traumatic experience.

With programmes like CARE's, survivors of sexual violence can receive the health and treatment they need to protect them from some of the psychological and physical effects of sexual violence.

“We just want to go home in security,” one of the women said.

3. Mapendo Marie, rape survivor

Mapendo Marie[i] doesn't know her exact age, but she looks about 16. Last year she was raped while returning from the fields where she had been working that day. Mapendo is from the village of Kisheke in North Kivu, eastern DR Congo. After it happened she returned home and didn't tell her family at first - only when she was about six months along in her pregnancy. Her grand-mother Georgette Dunia[ii] insisted that she visits the nearby clinic for a prenatal visit. Soon thereafter her son Jackson was born. He will likely never know his father since Mapendo herself didn't know who her rapist was and has never seen him again.

Mapendo had to leave her home due to the conflict that has ravaged North Kivu since April this year. She lives with her son on the outskirts of Goma, not far from her native village, in a makeshift shelter with her grandmother and several other family members. Mapendo often does not know where their next meal will come from. But she is too scared to return to their village any time soon.

One of CARE's programmes in the DR Congo helps to support rape survivors by giving them what they often need most: a way to make a living. CARE provides socioeconomic support by establishing village savings and loans associations (VSLA), which allow very poor communities or groups to save money and invest to start small businesses. In addition, CARE supports women through income generating activities – and Maputo will receive assistance though these as well.

However, much more needs to be done to stop sexual and gender-based violence in the DR Congo. So that one day no woman, no child or no man needs to fear of such an attack on their body. Until then, CARE is there to help.