How are these brave survivors doing today? The healing is slow, but they have survived what in the Congo is now being called the deadliest crisis since World War II—and they want to thank you.
Honorata was once director of the Lycée Amani, a technical institute for girls. That ended in 2001 when she was gang-raped and abducted to the forest to become the most degraded kind of sex slave: "I did not belong to one person; I was for the use of everyone and anyone who needed me." After more than a year, she escaped and made it to the city. In 2004, however, she was living with her five children—her husband had deserted her for another wife—when militiamen broke in. Several stripped her naked and rammed themselves into her old wounds, flash-flooding her with traumatic memories. Her pregnant daughter was also raped. "I bled incessantly," says Honorata. But that was nothing to her compared with the loss of her value and importance as a person in society.
After several meetings with her group of 20 at Women for Women, she says, "I started to realize that I was not the only one who had gone through what I'd been through. And the opportunity to communicate with foreign sisters in the United States has been shocking and moving for me at the same time, and it encourages us to fight for women's rights here." After learning how to tie-dye as a stopgap means of support, Honorata is back to her activist self. "I am planning to travel to my village, Shabunda, to help women understand the election process so they do not accept gifts [from candidates], so they demand greater accountability from politicians. Our country has been in crisis mode for too long."
After starting the Women for Women program, she learned that her husband was alive and had taken a new wife. When Seraphine told him how their own son and daughter were murdered, she says, "he cried and could not be consoled." Still, she says, "I see that he has no intention to come be with us."
Nevertheless, the counseling has helped her feel stronger. She is not only able to support her six children but has taken in her brother's four as well. "They killed him and took his wife into the forest. We still have no idea whether she is alive. So I am trying to send ten kids to school. I have been sick with migraines. But the little energy I have to spare will be to ensure the education of the children, especially the girls, because an educated and a noneducated woman do not live the same quality of life."
Now, however, Maria has a successful business, selling beer and flour. "Things have improved because I can eat at least once a day," she says. "I have two girls, 15 and 17, who I am sending to school; I am paying for the education of my 13-year-old nephew as well. My children must continue their education. I hold on to life for them."
Her one solace is how well she's doing as a merchant. "If I am able to ensure that my daughter, Sylvie, can go to university, this will give meaning to the tears that have been flowing so long."
Marie, who was raped on two separate occasions, responded by starting an organization to help victims of sexual violence. "Many of the women ended up with HIV/AIDS," she says. "I was lucky not to. But this helped me realize that I must have courage because there are others who need me."
Now Marie's family is getting into the healing act. Her husband, who left her after the first attack, returned two years later, and their relationship is much improved. "Before, a day would not go by without reference to my rape, but he no longer speaks badly to me," she says, noting that he's had to deal with his failure to protect her. "And he has now completely committed himself to helping other men understand their own trauma. Since we started this work, 93 men who had left their raped wives decided to come back after counseling." Marie's daughter Aline, raped at age 8 along with her mother, is determined to study human rights law.
To learn about how you can help women in the Congo and all over the world, visit www.womenforwomen.org.