Congo Journal 18
After our meeting on Saturday with the victims of gender-based violence, I asked several members of the Ten for Congo team to write a brief response to that experience. Their reflections capture the horror of the violence, the resilience of the women, and the hope for healing.
I remember the moment she walked into the room. I had been greeting the other women who would be speaking with us that day. Each woman was beautiful but this new face stood out to me . . . because she wasn't a woman—she was just a girl. A beautiful girl with the smoothest brown skin, soft brown eyes, and braids. I guessed her age to be about ten. Surely she was here with her mother. She couldn't be one of the victims, could she? I caught her eye and smiled, and she smiled back shyly. And then she walked over to the bench and sat among the other victims.
When it was her turn to tell her story, she stood and told us she was thirteen. She described the day two years earlier when she and her friends were confronted by soldiers while searching for firewood. The other children were able to run away, but she was caught.
I was awed by the courage it took for her to tell us her story, but I wanted to wrap my arms around her and protect her all the same.
Every woman we met that day left an imprint on my heart, but the face of this girl will stay with me for a long time to come.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8).
Today, in addition to victims of sexual violence, we met some very special women who have taken seriously the biblical mandate to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. These volunteer counselors—who face both support and opposition from the community—step into the lives of traumatized women who are most vulnerable. Woman after woman told us about the counselors who got them to a hospital for treatment and made sure they had a place to live. When some of the victims were literally stripped of everything they owned, including the clothes on their backs, counselors clothed them and provided for them from their own limited possessions. When the women were sick or recovering from injuries, counselors visited and comforted them. We could see the gratitude on the women’s faces as they described how these counselors offered care, encouragement, counsel and hope.
As I listened to the women describe how the counselors had helped them, it made me all the more determined to speak up on behalf of both the victims and their caregivers.
Marianne Clyde, LMFT
After our meeting, I sat on a narrow wooden pew trying to process everything we’d just heard. I felt angry, helpless, and paralyzed. I had just looked into the eyes of an eight-year-old victim who had been raped by a soldier who found her home alone. When her parents returned, they found her in a heap on the floor and knew immediately what had happened.
Her family took her to a hospital over two hours away in the city of Goma rather than to the local hospital. They were ashamed and didn’t want the village to know what had happened to their daughter. Her wounds were so severe she stayed on in Goma for nearly a year for ongoing treatment.
She received treatment for her body but I ached for the damage to her psyche. In a culture that stigmatizes the victim of a rape but not the rapist, she is hidden away, unable to attend school or be part of the life of the community. I am a therapist who deals with trauma and family relationships and I yet I felt I had nothing to offer her. I wanted to scream, and the only thought that kept running through my head was a prayer: “God, what can I do?”
I am listening for the answer. It’s hard to wait.