Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Turning pain to power – Women of DRC

When we hear/read about the Congo (DRC), it is usually terrible stories, particularly those involving women. My own blog entries are no different. But recently there is a sense that things are shifting a bit – women are taking things into their own hands and among all the pain and devastation, there are shoots of hope.

• There is City of Joy in Bukavu, a place conceived and created by women to provide women survivors of sexual violence “a place to heal emotionally as they rebuild their lives, turn their pain to power, and return back into their communities to lead.” City of Joy will provide group therapy, self-defense, theatre, HIV/AIDS and family planning, horticulture and economic empowerment to up to 180 women a year. It is a project of V-Day and UNICEF, in partnership with Panzi Foundation. To find out more, watch this short, powerful video.

• Another source of hope is the Heal My People programme at HEAL Africa, a Congolese relief organization centered in Goma. The programme was launched by Jeanne Muliri Kabekaty, known as “Mama Muliri” to her friends and colleagues, and its aim is to turn women from victims into survivors and eventually into strong women of the community and the hope of the future of Congo.

In this interview below, Mama Muliri explains what this means. (The interview was translated by HEAL’s Executive Director Judy Anderson and posted on the PeaceXPeace network. (To listen to the whole interview, click here.)

“Let me tell you about the work we are doing with women who had real pain, real sorrow. You know the stories of what had happened to women but what we were really concerned about is that they not live with the stories of their past as victims of sexual violence.

When we first started they were victims but then we said they’re no longer victims because these women that we have been working with have been cared for medically, their emotional state has improved. We started thinking: what other words can we use? We started calling them survivors. We thought: survivors, well yeah they are survivors but how long are they going to be survivors? How many years can they live as survivors? Where does that leave them? We need to give them a way to show how strong they can be and we want them to think of themselves as strong within the community. We want to also change the name.

How will that name change? They need to be strong enough to do hard work. It also has to be work that they can do well and that they can see the value of and the worth of. We work with women and then when they return home we put them with the other women in the communities so that they are all strong together. The women that come back have strength that is accepted and valued in the community and they can work together for their own futures. They can do handiwork, they can work in the gardens, they can sell small items in markets. They find a way to see themselves again as a woman, like the other women in the community.

These women also learn how to accept each other and welcome each other. The women that had a terrible experience during the war are no longer pointed out with the finger, “See that one.” The women that we have worked with, that we have helped heal are now with their other women in community. They are working together.

So we have buried the word victim. We have buried the word survivor. Now these women are called the strong women of the community. They are the hope for the future of Congo. These women have buried their pasts and they are going into the future. What we see is that if in the next two or three years we have no more wars Congo will have a whole different look. And that is why we women are standing together to say: NO MORE WAR. If somebody comes to us proposing another war for another reason we will stand together and say: No More. Enough is enough."

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