I returned to Bukavu in mid-June for two weeks, first flying from Los Angeles to Nairobi, which took two days and left me exhausted and nearly deaf. I was fortunate enough to spend several days in Nairobi with my new friend, Johara Bellali, a lovely woman who fed me, provided clothes when my suitcase disappeared, and let me sleep a whole day and night. Johara´s two daughters were great company, too, and reminded me of my own girls when they were that age.
Johara has been putting together a grant to submit to Global Fund for Women http://www.globalfundforwomen.com/ for the Bukavu Women´s Center (BWC). To send it off in style, we created a little ritual, said a prayer for the women, and clicked the "Send" button. Let´s hope the grant is funded, because it would cover BWC rent, salaries, and supplies for 6 months. This would be a real blessing, allowing the women to concentrate on self-sustaining, income-producing projects instead of survival issues.
From Nairobi I flew to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where I waited another day to catch the bus to Goma, DRC. For those who haven´t been to Rwanda, you should know that it is beautiful, clean, and prosperous. I literally did not see one piece of litter anywhere; the roads are paved and planted flowerbeds line the road. Kigali has towering new commerical buildings and malls, and the small, traditional country homes are clean and recently plastered. Rwanda testifies to what other parts of Africa could be with good leadership.
The bus ride from Kigali to Goma was another 4-hour careening tour of the countryside that I have grown to love-- and fear equally. Goma lies east of Kigali across the border in DR Congo, at the norther tip of Lac Kivu, a 55 mile long lake of volcanic origin. In fact, Goma has its own active volcano, Mount Nyiragongoan, which erupted as recently as 6 years ago. Luckily, no one was killed then, except looters who misjudged the lava as it flowed slowly through town down to the lake; it can still be seen glowing at night.
Goma was hosting an international conference on sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) in the Great Lakes Region, which includes Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, and DR Congo. Delegates from each country gave suggestions about how to stop SGBV, which continues to be very difficult despite the enormous amounts of money that are poured into DRC each month. One obstacle is judical impotence, due to the common practice of murdering magistrates who rule against powerful offenders. Another big problem is military commanders who give their tacit approval by not opposing it; apparently, troops will stop raping women when their commanders stand against it.
I noticed that the only country with military personnel (6 officers) at the table gave the least helpful suggestions about how to stop SGBV. Guess which country?
While there, I met with Francesca Morandini, Protection Specialist with UNICEF in DRC. We spoke at length about Eve Ensler´s V-Day Foundation campaign to stop SGBV in Congo. http://www.vday.org/contents/drcongo
In conjunction with UNICEF and Panzi Hospital, V-Day plans to build City of Joy in Bukavu, a self-contained safe village where women survivors will live with their children while receiving counseling and job training. But the key to the project lies in the leadership training these women will receive. V-Day has the vision to train violated women to be leaders, not just survivors but powerful women who inspire other women to stand up, become independent, and change their lives and country for the better. It is an ambitious project, one that I believe has great potential to stop the brutality against women and children here in Congo.
Francesca and I also spoke about me developing a counseling program for City of Joy, one that combines western psychology with the spiritual therapy (prayer) now being used. Because neither Congolese women survivors nor their caretakers are psychologically-minded, I am creating a program that integrates behavioral therapy with their cultural values, while building on the women´s already existing strengths. I have already initiated this program with women survivors at BWC, and will continue later this summer at the Shiloh Hospital in Nyangezi. Wish me luck-- it´s a great challenge!
Getting from Goma to Bukavu, which is at the southern tip of Lac Kivu, involved a 6-hour boat ride on the lovely Miss Rafiki (meaning "friend" in Swahili). What fun it was as we passed fisherman and chugged past beautiful countryside on both sides of the lake.
Passengers crowded into the forward section sang for hours while a Pastor preached.
I was happy to be returning to Bukavu.
Stay tuned for the next installments when I interview individual women survivors, visit a soap-making factory, and go to Nyangezi to meet women in the bush!
With love and gratitude,
Dr. Victoria Bentley
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