For nearly a decade, women in the eastern Congo have endured unimaginable acts of
sexual cruelty, leaving them shamed, abandoned by their families, shunned by their
villages, and ignored by the world. Last December we asked readers to write notes of
support inviting these women to tell their stories. Here, a few of their responses,
encompassing both the horror of their experiences—and the glimmer of hope
an extraordinary organization is giving them.
Furaha Mirindi, 34, single mother of seven
I am from Kavumu. I got married when I was 15 years old and he was 18. We did not have an official ceremony, but we lived together as a married coupled. Together we had 6 children. While I had no formal educational training and cannot read and write, I successfully ran a small business selling peanuts and palm oil to feed my family before we were directly affected by the war.
In 2002, there was a great deal of insecurity in Kavumu. My family left the village for a more secure place nearby. The village chief gave us temporary refuge. The first night we spent in the new house, we were attacked. There were more than six military men that entered the house that night. My mother, my younger sister and my sister-in-law were all raped. I was raped by at least three of them. I cannot remember. I was numb. I tried to stop them, not only because I did not want to be invaded, but I did not want them to rape me in front of my children. In my struggle with them, they hit me on my right eye, which is now damaged. After the incident, I spent six months in the hospital because of my eye and other injuries. In addition to the physical damages of the rape, I got pregnant. I gave birth without even realizing it. At the time I was in so much pain physically and emotionally that I could not distinguish the pain from my eye and the rape from the pain of giving birth. The child had to be forced out of me because I did not have the courage or the energy to push. Ironically, the child is born with a damaged left eye, similar to the damage of my right eye. The doctor says it is because the position I was in during the eight months I was in the hospital. It seems like a curse to me.
My husband supported me throughout the time I was in the hospital. He sold all of our possessions to pay for my medical bills. But he left sometime after the child was born. He left me because he simply could not deal with the cost of the aftermath. The burdens were too heavy for him to carry. He told me that I had made him poor. The little girl I gave birth to after the rape is always sick. She needs more than we can provide. Although we were not officially married and he had never paid the customary bride fees, before he left me he went to my family and paid the bride fees and told them that he was returning their daughter. He said that he no longer has the means and resources to continue to support me.
My little girl is now one and a half years old. She cannot walk, crawl or sit up. I came to Bukavu with the hope that the Centre for Handicapped Children would take this child and treat her and provide for her. I am not able to attend to her needs. I love my baby even though she is a product of being brutally raped. I would like for her to have a normal childhood, to be like other children, and to one day walk and play. The Centre did not take my baby they only take handicapped orphans. I hope to find an opportunity to care for my children, all of them. I feel like I have no value. When I see my child crying because she is hungry and there is nothing that I can do about it, it's painful. It hurts at the core of my being. Every day is more and more difficult, especially with this baby. While I am no longer active in a church like I used to be, I continue to put my faith in God. I have to believe that I will one day reconstruct my life and provide for my children and perhaps find a husband again.
Antoinette M' Cubira, 37
I lived with my husband in Bagira, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We were not officially married; it was a common law marriage. He was a driver and a mechanic, and I was a small merchant. I sold beans and corn flour.
I was 14 years old when I met my husband. He was between 20 and 25 years old. I was still going to school and was interested in continuing my education. But my family had major financial difficulties and I could not continue with my studies. When my husband learned that I had left school, he came to ask for me. At that point, I had no excuse. Since he had been so persistent and patient, I felt that he was the one for me and that God had sent him for me. He was nice and kind and could support me financially and spiritually.
Our life together was like a partnership. We planned things together and decided on the household affairs. We were friends.
Despite how good our relationship was initially, like most couples, we had some marital problems. In 2001, I left home and went to live with my older brother in Mbobero, located about 8 km from Bukavu.
In June of that year, the Interahamwe attacked Mbobero. It was in the middle of the night, between 9 pm and 2 am. They usually come during the night. They knocked on our door. We asked who it was. They replied, "Open up." Before we could ask another question, the door was banged down. I was in the house with my four children, my younger sister, my sister-in-law, and her two children.
My brother was not home. He had left the house after dinner to attend a meeting with the other men in the village to talk about the arrival of the rebels. They could not know which direction they would come from.
The rebels entered the house and identified what they wanted. Instead of my sister-in-law or younger sister, I was selected to go with them to carry the items they stole. It was as if I were cursed. Why me and not the others?
We walked for more than four hours when I finally told them I was tired. I could not continue walking with these heavy items on my back, so I dropped the materials on the ground. One of them said to me, "I'm going to give you something to make you relax." As I was on the ground, one them hit me; another one kicked me. They started tearing off my clothes with force. I started crying and pleading for them not to rape or kill me. One of them replied, "even if I killed you, what would it matter? You are not human. You are like an animal. Even if I kill you, it is not as if you would be missed. You Congolese are many."
I continued to cry and plead. One of them held his hand over my mouth, while another got on top of me. They continued this way, taking turns covering my mouth and raping me until each had his turn. It was painful. It was like they were piercing a knife to my heart and the pain would go from my heart to my head and to my body. I just wanted to die. In fact, I think I did die that day. Being raped is like dying. They kill you. You become numb. You are breathing, but you are not alive. They kill you by taking away your self-worth, your dignity. They kill you further by leaving you with all kinds of diseases to finish the job they started.
Antoinette M' Cubira (continued)
They treated me like an animal. It was degrading and humiliating. When they were done, the last one took the materials I was carrying and threw them at me. They left me on the ground and started walking. They assumed I was going to follow. I don't know where I found the courage not to. My legs were trembling. I crawled on my hands and knees until I reached a little house. They didn't look back. When I arrived in front of a little house, I could not even talk. I knocked. An old women and her husband opened the door. I was naked, so the old woman gave me something to wrap myself in. They provided me with water and some food, but I did not have the strength to eat. In my condition, I had very little to hide, so I told them what had happened. The old woman started crying.
At sunrise, I asked the old woman to show me the way back to my brother's house. I had nowhere else to go. I made it back to my brother's house and explained to my family what had happened. My sister-in-law said maybe they chose me because I had bad luck. My children were happy to see me.
When my husband learned what had happened to me, he asked that I come back home. I think he must have pitied me more than anything else. He told me that the reason I got raped was because I left the house. If I had not left the house nothing would have happened to me.
Our lives changed. Making love was torturous. He reminded me often that it was my fault I had been raped. But despite the many challenges, I continue my efforts to regain some control of my life.
In June of 2004, I was working in the field with seven other people when we heard shooting. We started running to find refuge. We each ran in different directions. With my luck, I ran in the direction of the rebels. When I saw them, I was so afraid that I lost consciousness and fell on the ground. When they got to me they thought I was pretending. There were four men, thin and tall.
They raped me, and I lost consciousness. When I got up, the only reason I knew I'd been raped is that I was naked and there was sperm around my private areas and on my clothes. I was trembling because the shooting was still going on. I did not know which direction to go, so I stayed there in fear until the shooting stopped. Instead of going back home to my husband, I went to my uncle's house. I simply did not have the courage to go to my husband and hear what he'd have to say to me. Moreover, it was late and my uncle's house was closer. Upon seeing me, my uncle knew what had happened.
When I got home the next day, my husband asked why I did not come home, and I told him it was because I was scared. When he wanted to make love and I did not want to, he demanded an explanation. He asked if I had a lover, because I should not be refusing him. At that point, I had to tell him. His tension went up and he fell on the floor of a heart attack.
When he became cognizant, he started treated me very badly. He was the first man I had ever been with. Despite my lack of desire for sex, I make love to my husband out of obligation. Otherwise, I would not. We have some good days and bad days. I don't know why he is still with me.
I want to be active again. When I am active I tend to forget my woes. When I have nothing to do, I relive my past experiences. Sometimes I get delirious.
Berthe Misabiko Mbile, 28
When I was 16, my 25-year-old teacher fell in love with me. I was not in love with him, but he had helped me find a space in school, and I wanted to study.
One day he called me to his house and forced himself on me. After a month, I was pregnant. I went to him. He told me he was waiting for this. Now I could be his wife. It was honorable on his part to make me his wife. A pregnant, unmarried young woman in my culture is an embarrassment. So I accepted. When I gave birth, he went to my parents and paid the bride fee. I appreciated that he maintained my family's honor.
We were together for six years and had three kids. But each of the children died before reaching their first birthday. After the death of our third child, his family told him that something must be wrong with me. They began to pressure him to leave me. His attitude towards me changed. There was really no reason for us stay together then, since I was not really in love with him, we had no kids, and he was no longer nice to me. But I did not have the courage to just pick up and go.
I waited for him to tell me that he no longer wanted me so I could leave, but he never did. In 1999 I traveled to visit my family in the village because my mother had passed away. While I was there, I decided not to return. During that time there was a clash between the Mai-Mai and Congolese Assembly for Democracy (RCD), two rebels groups that have been involved in the conflict that has plagued my country since 1996. I fled with my family to the bushes to find refuge. The fighting lasted five days, and then the RCD, who had won the fight, informed us that it was safe for us to go back home.
Luckily, my neighbor heard the shots and called for me. We found each other with the scream of our voices. With her support I looked for help. We ran into a few young men who carried me to the hospital, where there were no medications because it had been pillaged by the rebels. A member of my family had to give blood for a transfusion.
The doctors transferred me to the General Hospital in Uvira. After three days there, the doctors said they could not continue to treat me considering my condition. So I was then transferred to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where I spent four and half months. But all my vaginal organs were still damaged. Panzi Hospital could not do the necessary surgeries to repair my organs, and the doctors advised that I go to Ethiopia.
I didn't have the resources to travel to Ethiopia or to get treatment. Thanks to the grace of God and local associations in Bukavu, Amnesty International supported the cost for my trip. While in Ethiopia, I had four gynecological surgeries to reconstruct my organs.
Today, I feel physically fine, but not like before. I have since returned back to school to obtain my high school degree. I want to continue with my studies to become a doctor so I can help my country and my people. I'm not sure which branch of medicine I will practice, but I want to specialize in surgeries.
I have not been in touch with my husband, but I learned recently that he had remarried. I do not see marriage in my future. I'm not sure what it could serve me.
I live with four of my younger siblings for whom I am responsible. I'm doing the best I can to make sure they get an education as well. But it is not easy. One of my sisters recently got her state diploma, but she cannot continue on to university. I live in hopes. I have faith, and I believe in the kindness of humanity. It is because of the compassion of the human heart that I am alive today.
Mapendo Bisimwa, 31, mother of four
I'm homeless. I'm neither in hell nor in heaven. I pray to God, but I don't know if he listens. I have no education, and I have no dream. I cannot afford to dream.
I was born in 1973. I studied until primary school, but I did not finish because my father died in 1985. My mother had passed away in 1981. There had been seven of us, but today we are only two—me and my younger sister.
When I became an orphan, I went to live with my grandmother, but she could not afford to pay for my education. I started selling flour in the market, where I'd see a young man from time to time. One afternoon, I was coming from the market. I was alone on the road. I ran into that that young man, and he started talking. He told me stories about everything and nothing. Because the road to my house was small and narrow we had to walk one behind the other. As we were walking, he grabbed me from the back and pulled me on the ground and raped me. It burned. I did not know it was rape at the time. I was too naive to understand what had happened to me. I cried. After some time, a woman I knew from the market came to rescue me. She called thief, and he ran. I knew nothing about sex or sexuality. I explained to my grandmother what happened. She asked if I knew the man who had done this to me. I explained who he was and where he lived. She immediately knew whose son he was.
The next day, my grandmother went to see the chief of the village and told him the situation. The chief said that the man would either pay the bride fee or be imprisoned. My grandmother went to visit the young man's parents to inform them what their son had done, and what his options were. When the young man heard that prison was an option, he immediately opted to pay the fee and take me on as his wife. But when my grandmother left, he fled to Goma.
Three months without my period, I knew that I was pregnant. I was still living with my grandmother. A young woman pregnant without a husband is an embarrassment, so I decided to move in with the young man's family. When his father saw me, he knew why I had come, and he welcomed me. He traveled to Goma to find my husband. After three days, his father brought him back to the village. He greeted me and even gave me a new outfit as a present.
His family gave us part of their house because my husband was unemployed. He went to the city and found a job as a domestic. After some time he had saved enough money to start a small business.
Mapendo Bisimwa (continued)
There was no love or affection between us. We did not start out of love and we did not live in love. He had a great desire for women. When he had money, he would disappear to be with other women. When he ran out of money he would come home, but it was always evident that there was no love between us. We did have four kids together.
One day in June of 2001, I was putting the children to sleep after dinner and my husband was in bed. We heard noise, and then there was a knock. I opened the door, and there were two of them. They asked me why I hadn't opened the door the first time. One of them stayed in the living room and the other went to find my husband in the bedroom. They started beating him. When they got to the living room, they said that they heard we had a lot of money. My husband asked them if we looked like people who have money. They asked my husband to choose—they would either kill him or rape me. My husband replied by saying, "I do want to watch how you are going to rape my wife; kill me." Since my husband was being defiant, they stripped him naked, put him in a big bag, and started beating him. They asked me to lie on the floor, and I refused. They pushed me in the mouth with their guns, and one of my teeth came out. They said they were going to show us where we were going to die. My husband asked to put some clothes on. We went out with them. The children stayed and were untouched.
On route, we ran into some villagers who were looking for a place to hide. There was much chaos, which made it possible for us to escape. We arrived at a house and explained what happened, and they gave us a place to stay. Our children were brought to the parish, but our house was completely destroyed. While we were staying with the family that had welcomed us, we went to fetch firewood. Three of us broke off from the group to find more wood. I heard voices of men speaking in Kinyarwanda. They came to me and asked that I put down the wood. The other two women were also taken by the military; I heard them cry from a distance. They lay me down on the grass and opened my legs while the others were pointing their guns at me. I closed my eyes. I have no idea how many raped me because I saw nothing. When they'd left, I got up and started walking slowly to join the other women I was with. When I got to the house, I explained what had happened. My husband arrived in the evening. I told him what had happened. He told me that it was my fault because I had gone so deep into the woods. The three of us were shunned by our husbands because the community told them that we were worthless and dirty. My husband left me and took two of the kids, leaving me the two youngest.
A month later I had a serious stomachache and started losing a lot of blood. I was transported to the hospital, where I learned I had a miscarriage.
If I could dream, it would be to reunite with my children and to have a stable life. I have decided never to get married because I know the suffering of married life. When I see the kindness of people, this gives me a reason to hope.
Marguerite Buhendwa Zifa, 30, mother of seven
I was born and raised in Ngweshe, Walungu. I did my studies in child development in Bukavu. After my education, when I was 20, I went back to Walungu to be a primary school teacher. I married my husband, who had just finished nursing school. We knew each other from high school. We had six children together, one set of twins.
There had been a great deal of violence in our village, with constant attacks by the Interahamwe and the Congolese Assembly for Democracy (RCD), who were raping the women and looting the houses. As a response to these growing attacks, the men created a local resistance movement, known as the Mundundu 40, to defend and protect the population. It was a small movement, but well armed.
About that time, the Democratic Republic of Congo was a country divided. The east of Congo, where I'm from, was under the control of the RCD. In 2002, the RCD rounded up our village looking for members of the Mundundu 40. A major conflict erupted between the RCD and the Mundundu 40. After witnessing the number of people being killed, the Mundundu 40 gave up and fled.
Since the Mundudu 40 had departed, the RCD took advantage by killing, raping, looting and burning our homes. But the Mundundu 40 regrouped and came to take back the village from the RCD. By then the RCD was certain of its victory; they had put down their guns and were celebrating in a local school, cooking the food they had stolen from us.
We were in the house when we heard the shootings of the Mundundu 40. The RCD were not prepared and could not reach for their weapons, so the RCD escaped.
The RCD had killed my father and my brother-in law, the husband of my twin sister. While Mundundu 40 had resumed control of our village, there were growing fears that the RCD would come back. So instead of staying in the village, I left for Bukavu, along with my twin sister and our children. My husband was in Bunia, a province far from where we were. As a nurse, he had to treat the wounded of both the RCD and Mundundu 40, and he had received threats from both sides. So he went to Bunia to find work.
Life in Bukavu was difficult, and after three months we learned that things had calmed down back home and decided to go there.
One night back in my village, I was out late collecting supplies. Another woman and I decided to spend the night with a Good Samaritan instead of walking the 30 kilometers home.
Marguerite Buhendwa Zifa (continued)
That night the Interahamwe, a Hutu ethnic rebel group from Rwanda believed to have carried out the 1994 genocide came in large numbers and attacked many villages. They terrorized the villages, stealing everything they could find. They went door-to-door, raping women and girls. They arrived at the house where we were staying, along with the woman of the house and a little girl of about 13 years old. They told us that if we cry, they would kill us. They raped the three of us, but they did not rape the little girl.
My husband was away throughout this whole ordeal, although we were in contact. I returned to Bukavu, where my kids were staying with my twin sister. When I got there I was treated at Panzi Hospital, and the doctor told me that I was pregnant. I confided in my husband's little brother, who wrote to my husband to tell him.
My husband sent me a message saying that he could not and would not share a woman with the Interahamwe. Three months later, he sent $20 for the kids. I gave birth to a baby boy.
In May through June of 2004, another war broke out in Bukavu. I fled to my aunt's house, where I thought I would be secure. Unfortunately, the military men of Laurent Nkunda, who had taken control of Bukavu, came to the house and raped my twin sister, my cousin, and me.
I was traumatized and depressed from the first rape, particularly after birth. But I had started a small business selling used clothes in the market and was starting to put food on the table at least once a day. I was finding strength to move forward with my life.
After being raped the second time, I'm lost. I wonder if this war has been a war against me. I have a constant migraine. I have lost hope in life, but I have to live for my children. I have to raise them. I know that I should go and get tested, but I am afraid to take the HIV/AIDS test, for fear that I may be positive.
Deodatte M' Chidimo, 37, mother of four
I got married when I was 16 years old, following the death of my father. My
husband was a young man I grew up with, and our families knew each other. It was, in
some ways, an arranged marriage.
In 1996, when the
first war in DR Congo broke out, we fled our house in Bukavu to return to my hometown
village, Mulamba, Walungu. In the early stages of the ongoing eight-year conflict in DR
Congo, the villages were more secure than the cities. By 1998, the conflict had reached
the villages that were once safe.
In February of
1998, rebels invaded our village and killed my husband. We did not find his body until
three days later. Despite his death, I did not leave because I didn't have the means to
do so. For a while there was complete silence and security. Life had resumed to some
degree of normality. Schools had reopened and the population resumed their
One day in 2003, at around eleven at night,
we heard footsteps around the house. I was in bed with my three girls. My boy was in
another room with my mother-in-law. The military knocked on the main door, so I went to
back door, intending to flee. I had no idea where I would go. The militaries had already
come through the front door, and when I opened the back door, the commander of the
operation stood in front of me. They had encircled the house. When he saw me, he said,
"Here is a beautiful woman." He knew that I was a widow. Not too far from my house was a
camp of Rwandan refugees of the Hutu ethnic group who had fled Rwanda following the 1994
genocide. I believe they told him that my husband had passed away.
He told me that he loved me and he wanted me to be his wife. I
refused and resisted his advance. He grabbed me by the hand and took me to the kitchen,
which was in a separate annex. He ordered the other men with him to lock my mother-in
law and the kids in the house.
He told me that he was not going to leave me, that he was in love with me and wanted to make me his wife. He tied my hands in the back and pushed me on the floor. He took off his clothes, then ripped off mine. He got on top of me and ordered me to make love to him in the same manner I made love to my husband. He said for me to do what it takes to please him. He finished what he had to do. I was on the floor with my hands tied behind my back. After he rested a bit, he got on top of me a second time. The third time, he untied me. I asked him to forgive me and to let me go, but he refused and said that he loved me. He asked me where I hurt. I told him that I was hurt all over. He placed me on my stomach and raped me again from the back. He said he wanted the whole village to know that I had become his woman. I begged him not to tell anyone, knowing the shame and scandal that would follow. He insisted that he wanted the whole village to know because he loved me. I was saved because the local resistance group in our village, Mundundu 40, had come. Upon hearing the news of the arrival of the Mundundu 40, he fled with his men. He promised he would come back for me.
My mother in-law and children thought that I had been killed, so they were happy to see me alive. I told my mother-in-law that we needed to leave this village; I was afraid they would come back. I could not tell her what had happened. We traveled to another village, Lubona, about 40 kilometers away. After three days in that village, I fell gravely ill.
I went to a hospital in Lubona. When I arrived, the doctors said they could not care for me. I needed to go to the Hospital Panzi in Bukavu. There I learned that my urinary tract was destroyed. I have no control when I pee. Imagine such a life. I live in constant fear--fear of the unknown, fear that at any time they could come for me again. I relive that dreadful experience every night.
I thank God for bringing [Women for Women International] here in DR Congo. In the [Women for Women International] program, particularly training, it's like a new door has opened for me to rebuild my life. Despite what has happened to me, I think being in this program will help to regain my dignity. It's like you have brought a light to those of us who have been marginalized and excluded; who had lost hope and a purpose to live. But since I have been welcomed here by this office and the people here have expressed an interest in me, me who thought that I had no value, and here you were interested in me. I didn't understand why. For this reason, I encourage Women for Women to be interested in other women who suffer; to give them hope to live.
Chantal Riziki M'Marure, 47, mother of seven
Before the war, I was a merchant. I went to two years of school, but not enough
to learn how to read and write. My mother had three sets of twins, one after the other.
I had to stop going to school when I was 10 years old to help take care of them. I
regret not having studied. If I had studied, I believe I would have had a better
My husband was a nurse, and spoke French.
While I did not speak French and was not as educated as he, this did not create a
problem in our relationship.
At the outbreak of the
1996 war, my suffering started. onroute to topple then-President Mobutu, rebels
associated with former President Laurent Kabila came into my house and beat my husband
to death. When he was dead they ripped his stomach open. While they were doing this to
my husband, they took my five boys and started beating them to their eventual deaths and
defiled them in the same manner they had done to husband. They stabbed me in my right
cheek, and again in my right arm, my forehead, my left arm, and below the belly. I was
near death. I cried, but none of my neighbors could come to my rescue, as they too were
I was flat on the floor near
death, and they continued to beat me. When I was finally unconscious, they thought I was
dead like my husband and my kids. They left. But during the night, they returned three
times to make sure that I was indeed dead. Since I could not move, I stayed in the same
position they had left me. They were assured that I was not alive.
The next day, my surviving neighbors found me and took me to the
hospital. They also took the responsibility of burying my husband and children. After
two weeks in the hospital, I was released, and I went to stay with my maternal aunt. My
mother, who was staying in Mbobero, a village near Bukavu, sent for me when she learned
what had happened.
One night in 2002, two weeks after the death of my mother, the Interahamwe attacked Mbobero village. Six of them entered my house. I was terrorized, beaten and raped by each of them. I cried, but no one could come to save me because the whole village was being attacked. My uncle and many other people I know were killed that day.
In June of 2004 another war broke out in Bukavu. My neighbor and I were picking sombe leaves in her farm when we were surrounded by a large group of General Nkunda's military men. They asked us to show them the road to the house of the Governor of Bukavu. We said that we didn't know. They asked us to show them the way to the center of Bagira. They wanted to complete the takeover of the city. We told them again that we did not know. They said to us, "How can you not know? You are from here. That's how you killed our brothers." I wasn't sure what they were talking about, but I now understand they were referring to the Banyamulenge, the Rwandan of Tutsi origin who has been living in Congo. At that point, I told them, "You were the ones who killed my husband and my children." Six of them took me to a distant location while the others took my neighbor. They laid me down on the grass and five of them raped me. I was crying so loud that they feared people passing by would hear, so the sixth one decided that they should go. By then it was already afternoon and people were coming back home from work. While the war was going on, people continued their activities.
They left me there. I crawled on my hands and knees to reach my house. They had raped me to the point where my uterus had become exposed. I did not know what happened to my neighbor. When I got to the village, I told the population what had just happened and warned that the rebels might be on their way to attack the village. Thirty minutes later, my neighbor arrived and provided the same message. Some people decided to flee while others stayed. The ones who stayed were attacked and looted that night.
I don't understand what has happened to me. I am ashamed to talk about myself, to talk about all that I have seen, lived and experienced. I think I am cursed to have lived my life. I would like to relive another life, one in which I can begin to forget my past, one in which I am not so poor, sad and depressed, one in which I am happy and my children are happy. That's the life I would want to live.
Bulonza Furaha, 35, mother of six
I was born in Walungu. While growing up, every Sunday I would go to the Protestant church. After service there was a youth ministry, where we talked often about love and relationships. I met my husband in this church in 1983.
The first day we met, he told me that he loved me and wanted to have a family with me. A young man who says he loves you without saying much about his plan for the future is not taken seriously, because it is like the beginning of an adventure that will lead nowhere. But when he told me that he loved me and wanted to create a family with me, I said yes without hesitation. This was the beginning of our engagement.
He would come to my house on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When my father realized that he was serious, he asked him to bring his family to meet our family. In February of 1984 our families met. We got married on a Saturday in June of that year. We stayed in Walungu, where I gave birth to nine children, but only six of them are alive today.
I was a farmer, and I would travel to Bukavu to purchase dried salted fish to sell in Walungu and neighboring villages. My husband would go to Bukavu to purchase soap, petrol, lotion, and imported clothes from Uganda, and he would sell the goods in his small boutique in Kamituga, not far from our village. He would never plan his activities without consulting with me. He was attached to me and respected my opinion. He kept no secrets from me. We were good together. That was until our lives were disrupted.
In July of 2002, around 9 pm, my 17-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl were sleeping in their rooms. My youngest children, my husband and I were sleeping in the principal house when we heard knocks at the door and the voices of men speaking Swahili in a Rwandan accent. My husband said this is certain to be our death. I told my husband there is no other solution but to open the door. If we do not, they will massacre us instead of taking what we have. So I went to open the door and six of them entered. They started in the room where the youngest children were sleeping; they woke them up and took the mattress, the blankets and everything else. When they entered our room they found my husband sitting on the bed already dressed. They pointed the gun to his chest and asked him for money. My husband told them he had nothing. They asked him to choose between his life and the dollar. Since he could not move from where he was, he told them to take the keys from under our mattress and open the armoire next to our bed. They opened it and found $200. They took all of our clothes and materials, but didn't kill us. Afterward, my husband went to Kamituga to get money from the shop to purchase new clothes for the family. We ended 2002 without another incident.
In April of 2003, around 8 o'clock in the evening, we heard knocks at the door, and I went to open it. Four Interahamwe entered the house and looted everything, but did not touch any of us.
May 26, 2003, is a date I will never forget. They entered again by force. We did not have money to give them this time and they were angry. They took my husband and dragged him around the house with a cord. They asked me to lie on the ground in front of my husband and children. The two older kids had already fled to the bushes. I got on the floor as they had requested. Three of them raped me as the fourth one took what we had in the house.
Bulonza Furaha (continued)
When they had finished raping me, I got up. It was difficult for me to walk and sit down. The one who had stolen the goods in our house told me to lie back down because he did not have his turn. I refused. His friends were getting ready to head out. So he took me by force. We were fighting. He tried to shoot me in the heart. In the struggle, the bullet hit me on the left leg. I was in shock, and I lost consciousness. They left believing I was dead. They untied my husband and told him to carry what they had taken from the house.
In the meantime, my little 8-year-old boy ran to the village chief, who rounded up all the men in the village. The chief touched my heart and felt that it was still beating. But I had lost a lot of blood. The villagers created a stretcher and took me to the hospital in Walungu in the middle of night. The doctors could not revive me—I was in a coma for two months. I was transferred to Panzi Hospital in August of 2003. My situation improved bit by bit. I heard voices, but I could not talk. From Panzi Hospital, I was again transferred to Kaziba. It was there that I regained conscious in September. I wanted to sit up and massage my legs. Much to my surprise, my left leg was not there. I called for my older sister, who had been watching over me. I asked her how it was possible that my left leg was missing. She said that the doctor often separates the injured leg for treatment and will sew it back. I knew that she was lying to me. At that point, I lost my head.
When the wounds were healed, the doctor gave me a prosthetic leg. In December of 2003, I left the hospital. I felt like I was alone in the world. I did not know where my husband was taken. My children were far from me, with my neighbors back in the village. The pastor took me with him to Bukavu. I could not go back to my village, so I asked the pastor to drop me in this neighborhood known as Chai. I asked people there where to find the closest Pentecostal church. I sat in front of the church looking for help. The pastor of the church came out and asked who I was. I told him my story. Moved by compassion, he let me live in an annex of the church.
Since I had a temporary place to stay, I sent for my children. I asked some people from my village who I'd run into to find my children and help them come to Bukavu. One week after I arrived in Bukavu, they came to join me.
I have had no news of my husband since that day he was taken. I spent over eight months in that little house the pastor had given me. My oldest son is doing little odd jobs here and there. My oldest daughter is selling water in the market, and my eight-year-old boy is selling bags.
The pastor eventually said that we could no longer stay in the little annex in the church. But he rented a little house for us and paid for three months' rent.
I started to sell smoked fish in the market for a neighbor. But in the recent war of May through June of 2004, everything was pillaged and the market was burned. My efforts have been reduced to nothing. Despite this latest fallback, I continue to have hope. My greatest dream is to make sure my children go back to school, particularly the youngest ones. It hurts to see them looking for basic means of survival. I would like to guarantee them a better life.
Josiane Shobole Malekera, 32, mother of seven
I left school when I was about 16 years old. I started helping my mother sell fish in the market. A year later I got engaged and married. My husband and I had six kids together. We were small merchants; my husband sold clothes and I sold fish. With our two businesses, we managed to care for and educate our children.
1996 was the start of the war in DR Congo. We were living in North Kivu. In the early hours one morning, we heard shootings. It was a confrontation between the military of then-President Mobutu and the military of the Desire Kabila, who later became the President of DR Congo. It was a difficult period for us. We had to seek refuge in the mountains. At the end of the fighting, we went back to our home, but everything had been stolen or damaged.
My husband and I returned to South Kivu, where we are from. My mother-in-law helped us to regain our life.
In 2002, the Interahamwe attacked our neighboring villages. Initially our village was not attacked. But one day in 2003 I was in bed when the Interahamwe shot the door down. They were so many that I could not count them. I was in the house with my husband, children and widowed mother. Some started beating and torturing my husband. The rest beat me and my mother, and then raped us in our little living room. I was raped by five, and my mother by six. All this happened in front of my husband. My husband was beaten so badly that he cried. I imagine that it must have been painful for him to watch me and my mother being raped.
When they had finished, they gathered everything and left. We stayed in our house with nothing but suffering and shame. My husband traveled the next day, despite his injuries. He decided that he could not share the same bed with me or continue to have a marital life with me. I had nothing. I was alone with my mother and the children. Three days later, we moved. The whole village knew what had happened and the shame was too much to handle. We were also afraid they would come back again to rape or kill us. My unemployed uncle in another village provided us with refuge.
Two months later, I learned that I was pregnant as a result of the rape. I gave birth a few months later to a little girl in my uncle's house because I could not afford to go to the hospital. Today, my daughter is five months old. I love her dearly, and I will never tell her or the other kids that she is the child of the Interahamwe. I have had no news of my husband. I want to resume my life again so I can care for my children and my old mother.
Before the war, I had a decent life. I was a farmer and a small merchant. My husband was a member of the National Red Cross and had a small clinic where he treated the local population. We had eight children, and six of them attended schools.
In January of 2002, in the middle of the night, the Interahamwe attacked our village. They entered our houses and terrorized the population. Those that tried to escape were either killed or wounded.
Suzane Mawazo Mí Maheshe, 35, mother of five
Before the war, I had a decent life. I was a farmer and a small merchant. My husband was a member of the National Red Cross and had a small clinic where he treated the local population. We had eight children, and six of them attended schools.
In January of 2002, in the middle of the night, the Interahamwe attacked our village. They entered our houses and terrorized the population. Those that tried to escape were either killed or wounded.
The Interahamwe forced our door open. I was in the children's room, checking in on them. My husband was in our room. When my husband heard noise, he immediately went to the living room and introduced himself to distract them. One of them immediately looked around and the other two stayed in the living room with my husband. They asked him to give them money and a girl. My husband said that he did not have either to give them. They said he must give them money if he didn't want to be killed. He gave them $200.
One of the Interahamwe came to the room where I was staying with the children. When he saw me, he took me by the hand and dragged me out of the room and told the others, "I have found a woman." At this point they decided to tie up my husband. They told him to hold the flashlight so he could see how they would rape me. My husband refused to hold the flashlight and said that he would rather die than watch the rape of his wife. They started beating him. He was bleeding and crying out loud. My oldest son came out to see what was happening. When they saw my oldest son, one of the Interahamwe punched my son in the left eye with his gun. (Today, that eye is damaged and he cannot see out of it.) My husband finally held the flashlight. In front of his eyes, three of the Interahamwe raped me successively. When they finished, they collected everything in the house. Close to the early hours of the morning, we heard a whistle outside. It was the commander of the operation, calling for everyone to return. They told me and my husband to transport the materials they had stolen from us. I was granted the right to take my youngest child, who was three months old.
I had many injuries in my genitals. My husband was also injured. But we transported the materials. Halfway through the journey, they wanted to divide into two groups, one taking me, the other my husband. They had a heated discussion over which group I'd go with, since each of them wanted to have me as their wife. The discussion was long, and they could not reach a compromise. So they proposed that I be killed. In the end, the chief of the operation decided that I would become his wife and no one else would have access to me. We continued the journey until we arrived at their camp in the middle of the forest.
There I met many other women who had been kidnapped. They did not want the women to talk together or gather in groups, for fear that we would organize an escape. In the forest of Kahuzi-Biega, where I would stay for three weeks, I remained the wife of this commander. He would rape me whenever and however. One day he asked me to go and wash his clothes. I was with three other women. One of the women told me that the MONUC militaries had arrived at Kalonge, which was not far from where we were. So we abandoned the clothes at the river and fled to Kalonge, where we saw five MONUC vehicles. We approached them and explained our problems. The MONUC took us all the way to Bukavu. There I was helped by the local protestant church, which provided me with a small house. Much to my surprise, my neighbor had fled the village with my children, and they were in Bukavu. I was as elated to see my children as they were to see me.
I am grateful that I am breathing. I want to regain my life so I can care for and educate my children and have a happy life. I still do not have news of my husband. I would like to reunite with him. All that I have lived has been part of my life experience, and I am hopeful that I will put this behind me to start a new life.
Anna Tabena Amnazo, 45
I studied nursing. I got married when I was 20 years old to a primary school teacher who was in love with me. We had seven children, but two died. My husband worked in the mineral industry.
In November of 1996, when the war started in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the military of Desire Kabila occupied our territory. Arriving in our neighborhood, they killed my husband because the military wanted him to help construct a bridge in the village, but he refused. He was killed along with another young man who refused to participate.
After my husband's death, I was kicked out of the company house where we were living because the mineral company had no spouse benefits. Because I was homeless and there was growing insecurity in the region, I moved in with my husband's family. I started a small business and resumed my life. For two years, life was good.
In 2000, around at 6 in the morning, five Interahamwe attacked my house. Two of them raped me. Three months later, another group invaded my village again and entered my house and raped me and my daughter. They took my daughter with them.
In December of 2000, I went to the market. The Interahamwe showed up and started shooting. At the end of the shooting spree, they chose people to carry the commodities they had stolen. I was taken. We walked with them deep into the forest to their camp. I only spent two days with them. But during those two days, they raped all the women. They took me and some of the other women back to our villages. Still, I had had no news of my daughter. I continued to live with my grief.
In 2002, the Interahamwe who had occupied our village and surrounding areas moved. There was some calm in my neighborhood. But in August of that year, the Interahamwe returned. We were in church when they came. They were many; each took a woman and instructed them to go home. Once at our houses, they told the husbands to go fetch wood. From there on they began systematically raping the women. The Interahamwe that came to my home decided to settle in. He stayed for one year. During that period, I lived like a prisoner. He raped me when he wanted and how he wanted without ever speaking to me or looking at me in the eyes. I lived this horrendous life until May of 2003, when I escaped with my two children to Bukavu. We walked for one month, only in the daylight.
After some time in Bukavu, my daughter came. She had a child and was pregnant. While things were difficult, being reunited with my daughter gave me some joy, and I began to forget my suffering. In May through June of 2004, another war broke out in Bukavu. Again, I was raped by the military of the rebels who had started the war. Eight of them entered the house. Each of the five women in the house was raped. When they were finished they took everything we had. Afterward, I was so depressed I spent five days without eating.
Now I exist. I simply exist. I want to relive my life, raise my children and make them happy so we can begin to forget all the horrors we have lived and experienced.
Esperance Ombeni, 19, mother of one
I was born in Bukavu, the fifth of six children: four girls and two boys. My parents separated when I was two years old. According to my mother, my father was a businessman and traveled often. He left the family when my mother was pregnant with me. When I was one year old, my father came to visit and saw me for the first time. The visit was short, but he managed to get my mother pregnant. Nine months later, she gave birth to my younger brother. My mother had a difficult time caring for our family.
Since I was not studying, I decided to assist my mother with her small business. One day in 2003, around 6 a.m., we were on route to the grand market to sell our goods when we were stopped by two armed military men. They encircled us and directed us to the bushes. There, we found more armed military men with around 50 people who had been captured. They asked us to sit down like the rest of the people. One of them came next to me and asked to look at him. I refused to look at him so he started beating me. I started crying. He said, "You are crying? I could kill you and you would not be the first I've killed." He took his bandana and wrapped it around my head so he could easily spot me.
Two of the men took a 45-year-old woman and started raping her. Afterward, they took a group of girls, including me. The one that had wrapped the bandana around my head asked for me. Though I had removed the bandana, he recognized me. He said that I was going to help him carry his stuff. After about 10 kilometers of walking I was so tired that I pretended to be sick. He started walking in front me. I tried to escape, but was not successful. So we walked, just the two of us, until we reached the camp where they were staying. That night, the man took me into his small hut and started taking off his clothes. He asked me to lie on his bed. I resisted, so he ripped off my clothes and raped me. The next day, when I woke up, I saw that we were 19 young women. They instructed us what life was going to be like and what they expected from us. They woke us up every morning at 6 am to wash, cook and clean for them. If you were not working, you were being raped. So it was to your advantage to work. One day, one of the women tried to escape and failed. They shot her right in front of us to demonstrate the consequences for attempting to escape.
I stayed in the camp with the other women. After two months, I was pregnant. Despite that fact, he continued to rape me. I grew so sick they thought I would die, so they allowed me to die at my parents' house. They sent me to Walungu, and the villagers there arranged to transport me to Bukavu. There I went to Panzi Hospital and stayed for a couple of weeks. A few months later, I gave birth to a boy.
Today I live with my mother. My little boy is six months old. I have started studying again because our pastor's wife has offered to pay for my education. I want to focus my energy on my studies and nothing else. My aspiration is to be a nurse. The time I spent as a captive has made me lose all taste for men, so I do not think marriage is in my future.
Annie Lutala, 18, mother of one
I was born in a small village in Kalole, Shabunda, where I attended primary and some secondary school.
In July of 2003 I was working with my parents in our peanut farm when three Interahamwe came. They first started beating my father. After they were finished with him, they said they would take me and my mother to the forest. My father begged them to leave one of us. They decided to leave my mother but take me.
We came into a farm of beans. They told me to pick some. I decided to use the opportunity to flee, but was not successful. The first night, one of the four men raped me. The other three had other young women they had kidnapped, so I was saved from having to be raped by all four. I was raped every day by that Interahamwe for the nine months I spent in the forest.
One day, the Interahamwe learned that the chief and the King of Wakabango had gone to Bukavu and came back with another group of military, the RCD (Congolese Assembly for Democracy), which was opposed to the Interahamwe. Someone had told them that I was related to the King of Wakabango. The King is actually my father's cousin. That day, two of the Interahamwe took me deeper in the forest, completely isolated from the others. Upon arriving in the forest, they tied me to a tree and beat me. The man who tortured me was the same one who was raping me every day and whose baby I carried. I was four months pregnant.
Three months later, they saw that my health had deteriorated. I was yellow because of malnutrition. The father of my baby let me go back to my village to give birth. Before leaving, he told me that he would mark my body so I could show my uncle, the King of Wakabango. He burned me on my right arm. In March of 2004 I was freed with four other women. Four Interahamwe accompanied me to a village, Katende, located 30 kilometers from my home. The people of Katende welcomed us and sent a message to my parents, who came to pick me up. After some time, my mother and I went to see MONUC to request their assistance so I could travel to Bukavu to give birth. My health was so poor that both my life and my baby's life were threatened.
In Bukavu I stayed with my aunt. A local organization directed us to Panzi Hospital, which provides free treatment to rape victims. On July 13, 2004, I gave birth at the to a little boy who I named Moise. The hospital did not make me pay the bills after learning of my economic situation. I kept the baby because I believe it is God who has given him to me. I regret having to stop my studies as a result of this unfortunate event in my life and the war in my country. I want to go back to school so I can be certain of a better future for myself. I want to be a doctor.
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, March 15, 2014
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