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I was a happy woman, wife, and mother before the war came to my front door. After high school, I wanted to earn some money and explore the city so I went to be a babysitter for a family in Bukavu. That is when I fell in love with a man who was studying mechanical engineering at the university. We met one Sunday at the church, eyed each other, and that was the beginning of our love story.
Soon after, the war broke out. So we left Bukavu and went back to our village to get married. But we found nobody. We escaped to another village and it was there that we got married. It was during the war so we could not wait for our parents’ approval. In a way, we eloped and told our parents of our marriage later.
We had a good life. He had a good job. We had a nice home. We had three children and we could even afford a nanny for the children. But one day, two months after our third child was born, we were attacked by the Interahamwe rebels. My husband was on a business trip at that time. I was at home alone with my children’s nanny. I heard the door open and they entered and demanded that we give them some money. I told them that we had no money, only two goats and some clothes. When they couldn’t find any money, they took the two goats and the clothes. There were eight soldiers and they asked me to lie down in front of my children and the babysitter. After two of them had raped me, one of the soldiers said, “No more,” and he took me with them, with the two goats tied around my wrist. They also took a cow and another girl from a neighboring family. The number of women taken grew and we were eventually five women and three men. I left not knowing what would happen to my children.
We walked and walked with the rebels in the bush that whole day. At midnight, one of the women said, “I’m tired.” They said, “Are you?” She said, “Yes,” and they said, “Okay, we are going to help you rest.” They asked her to stand, she did, and they shot her dead. We travelled for five days with no complaints. We were too afraid to utter a single word. When we arrived at one village, they blew their whistles and their boss came. He said, “I am thirsty. I need to drink.” In response, the soldiers slit another woman’s throat and they applied her blood to his body. She was a symbolic sacrifice for his thirst.
When we arrived, they separated us—those who were healthy were put on the left while those who were not were put on the right. They also took all our suitcases and selected the best clothes. The best clothes went together with the best cattle and the ones that were torn were put on the right. The boss came and inspected the women. He liked me and bought me from my captor for two rounds of bullets and one case of beer. I was taken to the dwelling of the boss and I spent three months as his sex slave. He was my Interahamwe “husband” and I was forced to obey him. He would come and we would have sex anytime he wanted. I was locked in the room and had to be escorted every time I wanted to use the toilet.
Three months after we arrived it was time for the women to be killed. We were called to a meeting, but before that, he came to me and said, “I can’t watch them kill you. I know your blood is in my blood. My mother is also Congolese and my father Rwandan. Follow my instructions to save your life.” And I did. That day, captured women had to wear a red cloth and they put a rope on our left hand, painted different colors—white, black, and red. We went through some rituals where they eventually took off the rope that was on my left hand and said that we have to resume the meeting at 10pm that night. I didn’t understand their rituals but I knew that was when we were supposed to be killed.
At 7pm, my captor came to the room he had imprisoned me in for three months and said: “I cannot see you die. Take these soldier’s clothes and wear them so you can look like a soldier and take this stick so that it looks like you are carrying a machine gun. And here is $10. Now you must escape.” We left shortly after seven. I followed him through the bush and out of the village. He eventually stole another man's motorbike. I got on the bike and he drove me until we reached Bukavu. That’s when he left me and returned to his village. In the end, the man who enslaved me and raped me was also the one who helped me escape. Even though he made me a slave, I am really grateful to him because he is the reason that I am still alive today. I owe him my gratitude. I am not more beautiful than those I saw being killed.
When I arrived, I met other women who were walking to Bukavu to get medical checkups at Panzi Hospital. We exchanged stories and learned that we were in a similar situation. When I went for my checkup, I was told that I was two months pregnant. But my uterus was damaged and I had an STD, so they gave me some drugs. When I arrived home, my husband said to me, “You are already the wife of an Interahamwe. I can no longer live with you. And you may be HIV positive.” The man I loved kicked me out of our home.
When my mother heard that I was back, she came to collect me. I was reunited with my three other children, who were staying with my parents. Panzi Hospital had recommended that I find an organisation that would help me, but, in my situation, I could not because everybody would be pointing at me and saying, “This is the wife of an Interahamwe.”
So I stayed home praying and, after seven months, I delivered my daughter. For the next three years, I had a very hard life. The father of my first three children did not care about feeding his children. He would only send clothes. So to help them survive, I would carry gallons of beer to get paid 300 Congolese francs (about USD $0.30). I could pay for cassava flour and palm oil. I went to the field to collect some vegetables to cook for my children.
When my youngest child was three years old, I heard people in my community saying that there was a women’s organisation that helped socially-excluded women. I joined. They provided training that interested me. The first topic, which was the most interesting for me, was that a woman should value herself. The trainer gave me a piece of advice that helped me a lot. She asked me not to neglect myself but to consider myself a person among others.
I also got vocational skills training, so that I could meet my needs and those of my family. I learned about trade; I learned how to avoid loss, how to make profit, and how to calculate earnings and expenses.
I’m really thankful to my sponsor because thanks to her assistance, I’ve already been able to improve my house and I am saving $15USD for my small business – I purchase bananas, use them to make local banana drink to sell. This group is like a parent for those with no parents.
My youngest daughter has no father. She was abandoned but I know that she is going to grow up well. It has not been easy to feed her, to school her, and to pay for her medical fees. But she is the best thing – both to me and my neighborhood. When my child is with me, I don’t experience negative things. The child that I conceived out of rape is my prophet. She helps everyone around her, and I know she will help me when I can no longer stand on my feet. Sometimes she takes food from the home and helps me to sell it to people near the roadside. For me, that child is extraordinary. In the process of raising her I learned to find peace inside my heart. No one can give it to me. No one can take it away from me. Peace is inside my heart.
What helps me deal with what I went through is the knowledge that I am not alone. Those who keep encouraging me give me the courage to continue.
The advice I give to other women is that we have to be in touch with other people. This helps a lot because you may listen to what they say and that can bring some inner strength. They can give you encouraging words. This helps you and can heal internal wounds. And this is what I believe in and I know that God is there and when you trust in Him, He is going to give you the strength to overcome.
While this is a photo of a Women for Women graduate, this photo is representative of the woman featured in the story, for privacy or security concerns.