A breakfast of coffee, fruit and egg and we’re off visiting rape victims and those who help them today. First stop is the DOCS hospital (Doctors on Call for Service) run by a gynecologist, Dr. Ahuka Ona Longombe. This hospital specializes in obstetrics and in fistula surgery for rape victims. Dr. Ahuka if a larger than life, forceful personality. The ABS has done some partnering to provide the hospital with some better equipment. After touring the facility, he took us to a room to show us his PowerPoint presentation on the causes of sexual violence, the impact on women and the work they do to repair. It was a difficult slide show (with a few pictures!). If you think of rape as forced intercourse only, think again!
He showed us current stats (42,225 cases of reported sexual violence as of 2 years ago). He pointed out how these stats are very likely LOW due to stigma, violence, and the complexities of multiple reporting agencies. Victims during the reporting period are 21% little girls, 56% young women, and 23% old women.
Only 25% get treatment within the desired 3 days.
While they do HIV/STD testing and treatment, medical, surgical, nursing, spiritual, and legal care, Dr. Ahuka repeatedly begged for help for the psychological damage. As a team we discussed whether it would be possible to send two high level interns (even post grads) for 6 months to focus on training nursing and doctor staff as well as lay people from local churches who might reach out and care for the spiritual needs of these terribly traumatized women. Interns would have to be able to speak French.
Leaving the hospital we traveled some very bumpy roads to Sister Alvera’s home. Now, all roads are bumpy in Goma. But these roads were the bumpiest. I kept expecting to lose teeth or an axle. Sister Alvera, a nun who runs an orphanage and home for raped women, was not home but they were expecting us. We came for the express purpose of talking to two women who have been treated by Dr. Ahuka for fistulas and who were willing to tell their trauma story. We were most interested to hear how they are learning to cope. The first young woman, C, had bright eyes and passion all about her. We met in her small abode, something akin to a shed in this country. She told of her rape and her treatments. Through the translator we heard how she experiences both joy and deep pain (she has been rejected by her family because of the rape). She described her struggle with dissociation as, “getting lost in my mind.” Sleeping, talking to the local pastor and being prayed for were helpful interventions. Near the end of our time with C we heard her lament that she could not find her attacker in order to forgive him. The pressure to do so seemed to eat at her. She felt she could not rest until she forgave him. Diane had the presence to respond that while she wasn’t able to find him, God could see her heart and the forgiveness in it. This seemed very meaningful to C.
The 2nd woman, X, had been raped and given birth to a child. The child had been rejected but lived in the compound. Sitting with X was her new little baby who played with nearby fingers and nursed when fussy. This woman was far more triggered during our conversations. Her eyes were missing light. She did not look present. However, she described a caring husband and pastor who helped her cope with her trauma experiences.
The rain, which had been pounding down for our interviews let up just as we were getting ready to run to our vehicles to leave. A view of several green cauldrons came into view through the puffy clouds passing by. From the Sister’s place we traveled to the local bible society office. We got to see the bibles we would be giving out the next day as well as opportunity to meet the staff. I can attest to two things about the bible society. They keep amazing records on all the widows and children they serve (food, stuffs, etc.) and they do not spend their money on expensive property. Back in 2002, their offices were destroyed by the lava eruption and now they rent rather humble space. If you give the bible society, you can expect your money to go to people and services, not bricks and mortar!
We ended the day back that the hotel with a enjoyable dinner meeting with World Relief country director, Charles Franzen, and two of his staff. Our dinner was outside under a thatch canopy and just above the loud lapping waves of Kivu. I can only describe him as a character–in the best sense of the word. He speaks Swahili but not French and has lived for many years in East Africa. We had wide-ranging conversations about Africa, Baltimore (his home town), baseball (his dislike for Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox) and football (soccer). And of course the work of trauma recovery was a central topic this evening.
3 responses to “DRC/Rwanda Trip: October 14, 2011”
What a great work in a rotten world! I’m glad counseling centers like this exist. Are there many of these in Africa? How does the quality and number of them compare to the need?
Thank you for this brilliant recounting of our travels through DRC and Rwanda. I especially appreciated this post on the interplay between righteousness and justice. Being able to step deeper into your own culture by stepping out into another language is a gift, and I’m glad you shared it with all of us.
Why do you think she felt a need to forgive? What does forgiveness mean to her? After such horrendous treatment what are we called to forgive? I googled “fistula” and “rape” and found an article on this in the Congo. My response is an angry desire for quick death of those men who did and do such things. My response is to cry “Why God, why? Why do you allow such things?” I cry for those women and wonder HOW can they forgive? Is it even right to forgive? — I know the gospel message. Confess, repent, your sins are forgiven, all things are made new. So their sins fly out the window and God’s vengeance goes out the window? I desire vengeance. I know God says “vengeance is mine” and that is a comfort…, until i realize that God might not do the vengeance thing. He decides whether vengeance is enacted. What about those who don’t repent? I look around and don’t see much vengeance there either. i see the powerful trampling on the weak and nothing stops them. Or they get a hand slap. The answer people often give is that my heart is also dark and sinful and if I really understood the depravity of my own heart and what God saved me from I wouldn’t feel this way. Really? I comprehend that all sins are equal in keeping a person from God. However, are they truly all equal in the level of judgment deserved, the level of horror? Is the victim sinning until they forgive? That brings me back to the question. What is the victim forgiving? What does it mean? What will the victim do or no longer do if they have forgiven?