Sunday, November 29, 2009

Elisabeth's Story

Elisabeth is a tall, statuesque woman in her mid-forties, and like many Congolese women her age, is a grandmother. She is also a widow who still has three school-aged children to care for, so she does laundry for wealthy people in Bukavu to support the family.

For some years now, Elisabeth has had stomach problems but not enough money to get medical treatment. She has lived with the pain, hoping it would go away, until recently when both she and her friends thought she might be dying, so sick had she become.

Ushindi Center contributes to a fund at Ciriri Hospital, which allows its women members to get medical treatment without having to pay out of their meager resources. A small hospital located in the hills above Bukavu where many women members live, it is run by a Belgian doctor, Dr. Mary Jo, who specializes in women's health. When Elisabeth decided to get treatment, she went there for help.

Dr. Mary Jo and I standing in front of Ciriri Hospital.

Last month, Elisabeth was hospitalized and had surgery, for what I don't know. What I do know is that the surgery was such a success that she recovered completely, regaining not only her will to live but her energy and high spirits.  So healthy did she become that jealous neighbors guessed that she had had surgery, which in Congo means you are wealthy, broke into her house one day looking for money, and stole everything she had.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the next night three armed soldiers banged down her door and demanded  she give them everything she had. The children managed to escape, and when the soldiers saw that she had nothing to give, one ordered her to take off her clothes so he could rape her; otherwise, he would kill her.

Ellisabeth stood up to her full height, looked him in the eye, and said, "You can kill me right now, because I am not going to take off my clothes and let you rape me again! I would rather die here than be raped by you!"

The soldier hesitated and looked to his superior for direction. The superior shrugged his shoulders and said, "Let's go", and they left.

When Elisabeth told me this story, she was elated, bouncing with energy, smiling and laughing. She had stood up to a rapist, to soldiers with guns who could easily have killed her, and she had prevailed! Her bravery is a huge personal achievement, signifying that she is a victor now, no longer a victim. 

Equally important, her bravery indicates that a shift in consciousness in happening with Congolese women. Because rape is epidemic in DRC, Congolese women almost expect it to happen to them; they believe that rape is just what happens to black women and don't fight back. Training programs like Ushindi Center empower  Congolese women by teaching them their rights, giving them microloans to start small businessses, and providing a safe, supportive environment where they can heal and rebuild their lives.

If you would like to be part of this powerful, life-changing process, please DONATE NOW at

Support the good work at Ushindi Center by contributing to the medical fund,  school fund, and/or general operating costs. Help these courageous women get back on their feet!

(for security reasons, Elisabeth's photograph is not included with her story)

With love and gratitude,

No comments: