People in Need at work in the Congo, part I
Czechs are working in crisis spots around the globe, predominantly through the charity foundation People in Need. Some of the people most truly in need of that aid are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose eastern conflict was largely unknown in the Czech Republic until a few people who thought they could help came in and started doing so.
The work of People in Need in the Congo began in a place called Bunyakiri - a territory of towering mountains and unending jungle - at the incentive of Markéta Kutilová, who came to the place as a journalist and left a humanitarian worker.
“The first time I arrived in Bunyakiri I was really, really shocked. I met the Catholic sister Clotilde, who had been taking care of rape survivors for 10 years and she was almost the only one in the whole region of 120,000 people who was taking care of these women. But more or less she had no material assistance for them so she could only provide them with moral and psychological support. And she let the women stay in her own place. So when I arrived I found 20 women living in terrible conditions with their children. These women have been held as sexual slaves by the Hutus and because of this there is a huge stigma surrounding them. They are called “Hutu women” by the community, and the community refused them, as did their husbands. So they were abandoned, with their children, they didn’t know where to go, so they went to Clotilde, where I found them living in terrible conditions, nothing to eat, no shelter, their children didn’t go to school and they never got any medical assistance, nothing. So, I was really shocked.”
“Rape here is a weapon of war. It’s used here not just to destroy the women, but to actually destroy entire families and entire communities. The rapes often don’t occur in private. We’ve heard a number of cases where communities have been brought out at gunpoint and forced to watch the women being raped. And this traumatises not just the women but families and larger communities, who then have to deal with the trauma for many years to come. So absolutely it begins with the women, but I think the plan is much larger than that. It’s an attempt to destroy and break apart communities.”
The first step for People in Need in the Congo was to ensure immediate aid for the victims. The physical and psychological consequences of rape as an implement of war make an appallingly long list: victims often suffer from fistula, the opening of the intestinal and genital passages into a single cavity, and younger victims are left mentally handicapped by trauma.
People in Need first set out to create a system of immediate medical aid. Once that was in place, the focus could shift to the fact that many of the victims had no homes and no livelihood. A tract of land was purchased in Bunyakiri and houses were built for victims of sexual violence who had been abandoned by their communities and their husbands. One of the local men working with People in Need showed me around what is an entire village created with Czech funds and initiative and introduced me to its inhabitants.
“All of these houses were built by People in Need?”
“Yes, all of them.”
“How many houses? For how many people?”
“26 houses for 26 families.”
Incentive and even money means a lot, but it isn’t everything. Critical to the success of any endeavour in Bunyakiri or anywhere else is self-sustainability. To that end the People in Need foundation began a programme of education: not only providing goats but teaching the villagers to breed them, not only providing clothes but giving them the means to make them, in an effort to bring together a functioning society here. Sister Clotilde spoke to me of what the Czech charity has brought her and her women, and what it has meant to them.
“First they started a micro-credit project which aided 27 female survivors of rape, and they supported the schooling of their children. Also through the micro-credit programme they helped the women to buy livestock, they’ve helped the women get vocational training in making soap and sewing, and this has aided them in the reintegration process. People in Need is like a star that has shined in the middle of the night for us.”