By Peter Kristvik Risholm, Information Officer, Caritas Norway
I’m in a small village in Rugari in the province of North-Kivu with Darya, the emergency relief coordinator for Caritas Norway. Until a couple of months ago this area was controlled by rebels.
I meet 22 year old Cecilie, who has fled from the rebels with her husband Jean Claude – like so many others. When I asked her about life in the refugee camp, she replied that she was just happy she was not in the camp in Rutshuru were the rebels went on a killing spree and slaughtered 150 of the IDPs back in November. The MONUC force next door did nothing. When the forces had been driven back and Cecilie could return to her house it was gone. She now lives in a small hut. “At least we are alive”, she says. Today Cecilie gets help from Caritas.
The next day we go to the biggest refugee camp in Goma, Mugunga 1. The camp was established in 2006 and 27,000 IDPs live here. Most of them come from Masisi, a rebel-controlled area. The camp is very organized, and the refugees themselves participate in committees to organize the work. Today Caritas distributes food for the World Food Programme. Of all the food that is distributed for WFP, Caritas distributes the most. Three trucks with food, oil and salt drove in this morning. The line of people just goes on and on. There are a lot of people, but it strikes me how few elderly people there are here. Darya tells me the average life expectancy is 46 years.
First stop for the people in line is registration. There they get food coupons depending on how big their family is. Then it starts to rain, suddenly there’s a lot of umbrellas in different colors. Then the refugees get salt, oil and corn flour. I notice the presence of many different organizations. It’s a good thing they’re able to cooperate so well in such a big crisis like this.
Despite a harsh life there’s a lot of smiling and friendly faces. They wonder who I am, they want their picture taken, they want to see their picture, and then they laugh. They keep their spirits up.
The sewing studio
In a sewing studio run by Caritas we meet a group of women who are victims of sexual violence. The treatment in this project is holistic. They get medical treatment, psychological counseling, they get help with social reintegration and financial independent. Today the sewing studio has 32 participants. Some of them are IDPs from the region, others are from Goma and the surrounding areas. They sew and sell clothes, and are given the opportunity to help themselves. Their customers and the local community do not know they are victims of sexual violence, which is important because it’s so stigmatized. After the training they receive a sewing machine, thread and fabric. This way they can continue their work.
Lakeisha & Marjani
One of the women tells us her story. (Names have been changed to protect identities.) Lakeisha is 52 years old, has 4 children and comes from Masisi. She is an IDP and was on her way to Goma when she and her daughter were raped by men in military uniforms. When they were finished they left them by the side of the road. Mother and daughter had no other choice than to pick up their things and continue on to Goma wherehey found temporary shelter thereLater, Lakeisha found her shelter surrounded by men in military uniforms. She was raped a second time, this time by five men, and her daughter by four. The next day she was met by Caritas staff who took them in to receive treatment. Caritas and the Catholic Church provide around 40 percent of the health services in Goma and in the DRC. Lakeisha’s daughter has suffered severe trauma after the incidents, but now attends a Caritas-run school. Lakeisha receives training and wants to continue sewing. She wants to be able to send her other children to school as well.
The extensive sexual violence in DR Congo is a result of the conflict. Most of the rapes, around 80 percent, are carried out by men with guns in uniform. The remaining 20 percent are done by civilian men who exploit the insecure situation the women are in. This happened to Marjani. She is 15 and is from an area close to Goma. Last year her father sent her out in the fields to work. She was picking fruit when she was surrounded by three men in civilian clothing. At the age of fourteen she was raped by them. Caritas was contacted to help her. She received treatment at a Caritas-run hospital, and now attends a Caritas-run school.
To our friends in Caritas Goma
Darya and I want to salute you for the good work you do and the fantastic effort you make in improving the lives of the people in North Kivu. We also want to thank you for taking such good care of us while visiting you and the projects.