DR Congo: Improving Conditions for Village Women & Children
By Mugisho Ndabuli Théophile, co-founder of COFAPRI, October 2012
COFAPRI is a DR Congo grassroots organisation, based in Buvaku, and we are committed to helping women and girls from remote villages who are survivors of domestic violence and war violence. Some of these women were raped during the wars.
Journey to Remote Villages
Bahati [COFAPRI co-founder] decided to meet our members; she climbed the mountains of the villages in which women members of COFAPRI live. They were very pleased to see her and they wondered what a courageous woman she was. They greatly appreciated her untiring courage of meeting them in their remote villages, where even local leaders fear to reach due to insecurity and distance.Although the DRC villages remain highly insecure, in August 2012,
The words of our members encourage us more. Their motivation gives us more courage to continue helping them:
“I have no words to say my joy. Before COFAPRI came here I couldn’t even buy myself a soap. but now I can do a lot of things. We are divided into teams and we help each other by working in teams in people’s field and they pay us. We did not know this before, but we were taught by COFAPRI how to look for money and not stay home only.
COFAPRI also gives us animals like guinea pigs, pigs, hens, etc.; we grow them and when they produce we sell some of them to get cash and we also get meat to eat from them. The dung of the pigs is used in our cultivation as fertilizers. Our livelihood has changed with the advent of COFAPRI. They are also teaching us different things in the context of helping ourselves and our families. They promised to do more for us. but their means are much reduced. When they will get more money, we will be very happy because they will help us more than they are doing today.”
Furaha Masinge , COFAPRI member.
Rape in the Forest, Rape at Home
When warfare is waged, most women seek refuge in forests or in mountains, thinking that those places are safe for them to hide.
“The forests where we run to during war are not good places, too. They are also dangerous like the homes we fled. There are animals that can attack and kill us, there are mosquitoes that inoculate us with malaria, and when children fall sick there, no medicine [is available] and worse is that we are raped in the same forests – not only once, but many times and sometimes by different rapists. This often happens in the eyes of our children, relatives, or friends.”
Nshobole Muhorho, a mother of five children.
The Impact on Family Life
The situation of the DRC war has even reached families. This is due to the impunity that exists in the DRC.
“There are various problems in our villages and families, because we often live with violence in homes and in society. Even if we mothers are discriminated against, but let our children be free, it could be fine. But we and our children suffer violence in the home and in society.
Look - for example, women are raped and so are their daughters; women are beaten in the homes and their children are refused some rights, this is bad. But we thank COFAPRI for the efforts it is doing to instruct us and teach us how to live in harmony.”
Iseka Managa, 32 years old, married mother of four children.
Some men have also been behaving in their homes just like those fighters. They intimidate torture and rape their own wives. One COFAPRI member by the name of told Bahati the following:
“The father of my children often abuses me in his home. When he wants to make children, he cannot even ask me. I can be happy if he tells me that. He comes and he tells me ‘I want it’ today. I cannot refuse; it is not in our culture. Next time I find myself pregnant,and I take it as it is. Now, look, I have now seven children and there is not a year between two children.”
Nzigire M’ Zahinda, COFAPRI member.
Supporting Children Born of Rape
The issue of children born of rape attracted Bahati's attention very much. Ever since warfare swallowed up the Eastern provinces of Congo in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been victims of sexual violence, either raped in their own homes or raped by fighters in their (wives and girls) hideouts.
COFAPRI is able to support some children who were born from rape.
As is known, the DRC has been living through cyclic wars for more than 15 years now. Women and girls have been raped, gang-raped once or repetitively. This has generated a lot of problems to the victims; they were infected with HIV/AIDS, others got unwanted pregnancies that produced fatherless children. These are the ones (only four girls at primary school) whose education we support, based on our financial possibilities that are still very limited.
When a woman is raped, either in the home or during wars, she may become pregnant and deliver a child. Bahati discussed with COFAPRI members the issue of children born from rape:
“I thank COFAPRI because they are paying me school fees, buying me my school uniform, and objects to use. I have no father and I don’t know him. When I ask my mother to show me my father she becomes angry, but her sister has told me that I have no father and that my mother was raped when they were hiding in the forest to run away the war.
COFAPRI is doing a lot for me and when I grow up, I will not forget this – what they are doing for me. The pig COFAPRI gave us has now piglets and when they grow up, we will be ok. We have leaders here but they don’t help us as COFAPRI is doing. At school, I tell my friends about COFAPRI and they say they will also tell their parents to come there. “
Child under COFAPRI sponsorship and whose mother is a COFAPRI member.
COFAPRI is committed to improve lives through education; this commitment is valuable and necessary since the government is doing nothing to help these children, particularly in the village.
These children have needs and addressing them would be an important point for these children’s development.
Children born from rape have specific needs; they need assistance - in particular with regard to education and materials. And they need to be educated in order to not feel neglected.
These children need more assistance in education. Since their psychological status has been hurt, much should be done to help them, otherwise they will be vulneralbe and may become a social threat themselves, lured by others to engage in activities like banditry or prostitution.
If these children can be fully taken in charge, they can go to school like other children and this will have prevented them from becoming a social threat. They can learn positive thinking and constructive values that are necessary for their future and the future of the country.
Challenges to Education
As mentioned, COFAPRI is helping some of these children born of rape (four at the moment), but the means we have are much reduced. These children need school materials, uniforms, shoes, food, etc., as they come from destitute families.
The animals, like pigs, goats, guinea pigs, and hens we are giving to different groups in South Kivu remote villages are now helping the families of these children a little bit. The great problem COFAPRI is facing is the number of children that are in each family. Families are very big in this part of the DRC; no family has fewer than four children. The mothers say they still need to produce more children – even if they have no means to feed and educate them. They say that it is God who feeds children and not the parents.
Obtaining materials related to education is not an easy task as they require cash, which is not available at the moment. Besides, as the number of members increase, so does the needs also increase. These mothers say if their children can get the chance to study formally and gain degrees it can help them.
“We do appreciate what COFAPRI is doing in this area by teaching us and our children good things. We think it is better our children learn more than us; they can learn what we did not study because we had no means and no one was motivating us like what COFAPRI is doing today. Our time has passed, our days have gone but these children still have many days ahead and they are the future of our country.”
This is one of the challenges COFAPRI is facing when educating its members.
Rape and HIV
All in all, Bahati motivated COFAPRI members to leave behind outdated beliefs.
She encouraged them:
“When sick, go to hospitals, I know from here to Bukavu where hospitals are is a long distance and it requires you to pay money to reach there, but you have to go. This is why you have been given some pigs to help you in such situations.
“Here, you also have health care centers that can help in case of emergency.
You have also to know that AIDS exists; it is not a myth but a reality. It fears no one – you, me, and him can get infected if we are not careful. We have to fight the stigma that hinders us to say what happens to us. We must be open and tell everything to help those who can help plan what to do. Women can get it if they have been raped in the home or during the war. This is why you have to be HIV tested in advance.”
This is why the remote villages in this part of the DRC lag behind in development. COFAPRI is disappointed to see these women and girls lagging behind in education and development, due to their rights being infringed, and thus COFAPRI tries to improve the conditions in which women and girls of this area live, through education.
We do so by informing them about human rights and encouraging them to discuss various pertinent issues regarding their plights.
The women are being initiated to income-generating activities and human rights. Bahati has recently been to the DRC where she shared sewing skills with these women and girls. The girls and women who were trained by Bahati will benefit of the training to be sewing and so they can get some cash that will help them.
This will help them to set up a sewing centre from which they can get some money based on the different sewing activities that they will be doing. But they still need to buy some sewing machines so that they can start the activities.
They appreciated this new activity in their group. In each team, one girl was trained and she will go to train others in their respective villages (groups).
Moreover, another category of animals was introduced in the teams: guinea pigs. These animals are very helpful for the members as they produce quickly and once they produce, they give a lot of kids.
Training Mothers in Income-generating Activities
The mothers’ needs are different from those of their children. The mothers need a kind of education that can help them to learn income-generating activities like sewing, doing small business, rearing animals like goats, pigs, rabbits, cows, knitting, baking, molding bricks, etc. COFAPRI women believe these can help them get cash to pay fees and others things they and their children need.
Women and Non-violence
Bahati and COFAPRI women discussed different issues that are salient to family, village, and society. Among other topics, they talked about how to deal with ruthless discrimination committed towards mothers and their daughters, as well as some women’s regular reluctance to accept the children they got from rape against their will.
In brief, they shared the opinions that, although men are often the perpetrators of domestic violence, justice and society are also culpable, as they lean towards the side of the men.
They concluded that women have to avoid fuelling domestic violence because they will be the victims. They convened that women are not violent as men are; therefore, they must settle their home issues non-violently because no justice for women exists here.
The support and involvement of the global community is vitally important to the COFAPRI members.