Ek’Abana means “save haven for children” in Mashi, the language spoken by most country people in this area of Congo. Since 2002, Sister Natalina of the Catholic Archdiocese in Bukavu has been creating just that for girls accused of witchcraft and abandoned by their families.
Last Friday, I visited Ek’Abana with Danielle Shapiro, a free-lance journalist from NYC, who is writing about the lives of women and girls in Congo.
Spotlessly clean, radiating peace and orderliness, Ek’Abana is nestled in the hills overlooking Lake Kivu. The facility houses over 30 girls ranging in age from 6 to 14; each has her own bunk bed and a cubby with neatly folded clean clothes. For girls who come from stark poverty, where a family of 10 can live in a one room mud hut and go several days without food, this must seem like paradise.
Yet the girls yearn to go home, to be “reinserted”, which means to be reunited with their family. Sister Natalina and her staff devote much of their time to teaching parents that children are not sorcerers who bring misfortune to the family; it is not their daughter who is responsible for a new wife’s barrenness, the early death of a loved one, or financial ruin.
A 10-year old girl was abandoned by her family because her crippled leg did not heal after surgery. Facing hospital costs she could not afford, the mother blamed the child for her handicap and banished her. Despite this cruelty, the daughter cries when speaking about her mother and wants to go home. Sometimes it takes years to reconcile a child with her family.
Sister Natalina is doing a wonderful job caring for girls who would otherwise be homeless.
With love and gratitude,