Jenny Barthow, Digital Producer at Tearfund recently emailed me about the current staggering level of conflict and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the deadliest conflict since the Second World War, yet largely ignored by the media,
I must admit my knowledge of events in the DRC hasn’t hugely moved beyond Barbara Kingsolver’s splendid The Poisonwood Bible, so am honoured to host this spiritual reflection from Christine Karumba, Tearfund’s Deputy Country Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
‘It was a horrible moment – I could never have imagined this day would arrive.’ This is Alice describing the day that she was raped. About this time last year, two strangers arrived in the field where Alice lives – she thought they were just visitors. As they came closer, she noticed they were carrying clubs. As well as the sense of shame and emotional trauma, Alice still suffers pain in her stomach and hip from the attack.
Alice is just one of nearly 4,000 women known by Tearfund partner Heal Africa to have experienced sexual violence last year in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fighting between rebels and government forces in the DRC is still causing suffering on a massive scale – particularly to women.
I could have been Alice or any of those 4,000 women. I experienced a life-changing moment when, a few years ago, I met another lady who had three times been a victim of rape. She was educated, had opportunities – she went to the same school as the future DRC ambassador to the United States. That’s what brought it home: meeting someone like who was, like me, born and raised in the DRC, with the potential and education I had – but whose life had been devastated by rape.
She was the most vulnerable woman I have ever met, she had no food and only the clothes she wore. I sat with her, listened to her, and felt her pain. For me, as a Christian, this was a wake-up call. I decided to stand up for women like her, share love with them and help them to change their lives. That’s why I still live and work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the most dangerous places on earth, because I want to help women like Alice, like the lady I met, to stand on their feet, earn an income and stand up for their own rights.
What I still find astonishing about people in the DRC is how they can still believe in peace and hope even though they don’t see any sign of it. It is challenging for me as someone who is educated, who grew up enjoying one decent meal a day to see people with little education or food achieving so much. People tell me they know something good will happen.
Through my previous work offering counselling and support to victims of rape and people traumatized by the conflict, I’ve found that when people – particularly women – are given opportunities they grab it – they look to the future determined to support their families and send their children to school.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the world like this, how people can believe and achieve great things with very little under such difficult circumstances. But, through my work, I have been forced to see it as they do. Because I have come to understand that the most important thing you can do is give opportunities.
Of course, not everyone begins with this self belief. Often people start off without any hope, believing that they cannot achieve anything on their own. That’s why, through our partners, we encourage people to be part of a group to share common challenges. People receive psychological support from others in the group who care for them, they pray together and support each other as day-by-day the wounds start to heal. It is a real blessing for me to witness this transformation.
I have hope for my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, because I believe in the hope I see in the people. But we need to pray for more love. Ask God to give the leaders in my country more love in their hearts for others. Selfishness and greed is wreaking a terrible effect on people, on women like Alice. Pray that leaders reflect and ask themselves if they are here to live, love and leave a legacy. What legacy will I leave? We need more leaders in the DRC to embody Christ’s love for others. For the sake of Alice, for the thousands like her, and for everyone suffering in the DRC.
In this article, I used the pseudonym ‘Alice’ to protect the woman’s real identity.
Christine Karumba, Tearfund’s Deputy Country Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was born, lives and works in the DRC.