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Healing and Rebuilding Our Community - North Kivu
Zawadi Nikuze, HROC-Coordinator, North Kivu

The HROC program in North Kivu began in May of 2007 as a way of helping people of Eastern Congo and North Kivu in particular who had experienced war, violence, and a volcanic eruption in Goma. All these events made people traumatized in one way or another, for there are some people who had experienced trauma first hand for more than seven years. Since people did not have any understanding about trauma and its effects, they used to think that those who are behaving in a bizarre manner may be demon possessed and should be subjected to heavy prayers and deliverance. This, of course, did not bear any fruit for they were dealing with the wrong problem.

Having some knowledge and understanding of trauma, after seeing the suffering of people, Levi Munyemana and I decided to approach David Zarembka to request help to begin HROC in North Kivu. Dave did not disappoint us and in May 2007 the facilitators from Rwanda and Burundi were sent to begin the basic HROC trainings. This was followed by a Training of Facilitators and by September 2007 we had our first team of nine facilitators. This team did a lot of work. That same year in December, we had four internally displaced persons’ camps in Goma and all the people, about fourteen thousand, needed help. Some had seen their loved ones being killed, their houses being looted and torched; others had physical and emotional wounds. We were able to train different people at all levels, but we mainly focused on people who we thought could be influential and pass the message to others. We trained women, men and young people from associations, schools, universities, church leaders, local authorities and internally displaced people (IDP).

Major accomplishments in our program to date are:
• To have been able to train more than three hundred people in the community in Goma and Masisi.
• To have trained more than two hundred and fifty people in the IDP camps with basic HROC workshops
• To have a team of twelve facilitators who have a willing heart to share their knowledge
Currently, we are focusing on a group of one hundred rape survivors in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and Masisi, a community upcountry in the mountains. This activity began in September 2009 after the official closure of IDPs’ camps. We are helping these women to rebuild themselves after the sexual violence they experienced. We train them in different skills such as basket weaving, sewing, crocheting, cooperative farming, and literacy and had them tested for AIDS.

In 2011, the HROC program bought a plot of land in Goma in order to build a center for the rape survivors. This will save the funds that we were using to pay rent. We plan to start with a small building with a classroom/meeting room, a sewing room, a counseling room, and an office with an outside latrine. This building can be erected quickly and cheaply because houses in Goma are built with the lava stones which fill the plot and wooden planks with corrugated iron sheets. The longer range plan is to build a safe house for Congolese women who are abused and/or raped.

Challenges of the rape survivors’ program
We now have more survivors requesting to join the group due to its success. We know that we are not able to respond to all their needs but whatever we offer is helping them as we see them improving day by day. We still plan to care for the children, but the space is not enough. A friend who is a child therapist in the USA sent me a bag full of kids’ therapy tools. This is a good start for us. We believe that parents do pass their trauma to their children, and we also know that some children saw the killings of people, the different forms of violence, the brutality, and others saw their mothers being raped.

Renewed and Hopeful
I am 41 years old and a mother of six children. I come from Masisi. I am the first born in a family of three girls and four boys. In my village, parents privileged boys because they say that girls belong to another family where they will get married. Therefore there is no need of investing in a girl by taking her to school as it is wasting money. My dad took all my brothers to school but not the girls. Six years ago, I came face to face with death even though my life was spared. We were in a group of eight and, as we were picking firewood in the bush, three armed men in civilian clothing landed on us. Five of us managed to run but three couldn’t including myself because we were carrying babies. We were ordered to put our children down and we were raped systematically. Those who fled went to call for help, but by the time they got people it was too late because the bush was far from our homes. When the news reached my husband, he abandoned me and the children saying that I am very dirty and might infect him with HIV/AIDS. I got treated two months later and I tested HIV negative and I was excited because I feared that I might die and leave my children on the streets. Life was not that easy taking care of six children single handedly in an IDP camp.

I joined the women group in December 2009 and I have benefited a lot from it and am grateful for the teachings and skills you are teaching us. It is through workshops and sharing groups that I gained my self-esteem and hope for the future. God works in mysterious ways and He can make you to go through difficult situations to make you a better person or to open a door of blessings. I have learnt the benefit of listening actively to everyone - child or adult - and to being listened to, not to be judgmental when I see someone having signs of trauma. I got encouraged through other people’s testimonies because there are those who experienced worst things than I did.

I benefited from the loan even though I went at a loss when one of my children got sick and was admitted in the hospital. I didn’t know how to read and write but now I can write a letter without getting help from someone. I am so excited for no one can take advantage of me by asking me to sign papers which are not in my favor. I was chosen by my fellow members as their chairlady and this has really boosted my self-esteem because I was chosen by people who are more educated than me, who know to write better than me. This has confirmed that I am of value. I have also learnt how to weave baskets and now am in the sewing class and enjoying it. I can’t wait to make something for myself. Instead of giving me fish, better teach me how to fish. Please don’t give up on us; we still need your support, your love, your accompaniment, and your understanding.

I would like to say thank you to whoever has contributed to our cause, may the Almighty God bless you a thousand times.