Help Rebuild Women's Lives in DRC

 
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Feb 12, 2009

Honorata's Story: A Journey from Rape Survivor to Advocate

It was in 2002 that the world turned up side down and Honorata lost the signs of a "true and nice life" that she and her husband had built. She was captured and tortured by the armed militias. She was gang raped, sexually abused, forced to endure unimaginable humilities. Honorata's days blended into one another until the moment another marauding band stormed the camp. In the confusion, she escaped.

With nowhere to go, no food, nothing but the torn cloth she wore, Honorata walked. And walked. And walked. Through the blistering heat and through rain storms, she walked over 150 miles to Bukavu, a village that had become a haven for people fleeing the war. There she found her five children who had survived by the kindness of strangers. Reunited, she began to rebuild their life.

But just as she tried, the war came to her doorstep again. And, again she was raped, beaten and sexually abused. Families that had helped her feared she was cursed. She was left, again, crushed but determined to recover and rebuild.

Honorata joined Women for Women International in August 2004. Her story of survival was featured on the Oprah Show and in the O Magazine February 05 issue article, Post-cards from the Edge.

Relating the horrors of what she experienced was the first step to her healing. Until joining Women for Women International, Honorata had never shared her story and silently endured the trauma. "It is one thing to have been through what I have been through. To have no one acknowledge it enhances that pain threefold," she said. "Your willingness to recognize my humanity has given voice to my distress and meaning to my pain."

In a culture that marginalizes rape victims, Honorata felt isolated from the society that failed to protect her. She felt fragmented socially, economically, and psychologically. But once she realized she was in a safe place, both physically and emotionally, she began to rekindle her dreams.

The program "has dared me to hope-of having a house, of living in peace, of reclaiming my dynamism, my dignity. If not director of a school, I would like to be someone of importance, someone of value again," she said optimistically soon after she started.

Honorata joined a small group of women who also suffered in war. Each had their own stories of horror, of lives lost, and of struggling to regain their dignity. Together they shared their lives, their hopes and dreams. They sat side by side to discuss the role of women in rebuilding society, women's rights and the new Constitution, and family law. They learned about reproductive health issues, such as their anatomy, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and child birth.

In small groups, the women learned basic business and marketing skills. They enrolled in special job skills classes designed to meet the market needs of their community. They talked about the economic value of housework, and the importance of education and literacy in gaining economic independence.

Honorata chose tie-dyeing for her vocational skills training. Using her money from her Sponsor, she is creating a small business. Life is still hard but she is trying to earn a living and provide for her family's basic needs. She is determined to find ways to increase her income to enable her to save so one day she can have her own home again.

From the beginning, Honorata actively participated in the training sessions, particularly the classes on women's roles and the importance of becoming an active citizen. In the session about women and the Constitution, she vowed to play her role in rebuilding the country. After attending a community meeting on violence against women, Honorata noted "I come to these meetings on violence against women. It is always a so-called expert talking about us rape survivors. I have never seen that they give the floor to us to talk about ourselves. We have a voice and we can articulate what has happened to us and how that has impacted our lives."

Determined to share her first-hand experience and not to be silent, Honorata gave a speech on March 8, International Women's Day, about the suffering of women in eastern Congo. She boldly called for accountabilities at all levels. In the audience was the Governor of the Province and other political figures and community leaders. On behalf of other rape survivors, she called on the humanitarian community and national authorities to take heed of what has happened to women in Congo and what continues to happen.

"I did not believe that I could still hold a speech in front of a crowd. But I have done just that," she said proudly afterwards.

Her participation in Women for Women International has not only helped her to regain her sense of self, but it has given her the hope that she was looking for. "I feel like I am someone important," she said recently. "The recognition that I have been given today has made me realize that I am a valuable member in my community."

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