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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

‘HEAL Africa’ helps war-affected young women and children

UNICEF Image: Heal Africa, Goma
© UNICEF/HQ05-2181/ Pirozzi
UNICEF and HEAL Africa are partnering to help conflict-affected young women and children in DR Congo, where a decade of violence has left over 5 million dead and an untold number displaced.

By Patrick McCormack

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 8 February 2008 – Fighting between factions in Goma – the capital of North Kivu Province – has killed, injured and displaced millions of Congolese over the last decade. A recent International Red Cross report estimates that 40,000 people have died every month since conflict began in 1998 – most of them women and children.

Goma is now littered with makeshift camps of displaced families trying desperately to survive while praying for peace and security. This region is home to UNICEF’s largest humanitarian operation in the world, reaching nearly half a million people in 2007 alone.

There is chronic sexual violence throughout Kivu Province. Girls as young as 10 years of age have fallen victim to marauding factions that swoop in from the deep rainforest, engaging in killing and raping sprees before disappearing once again into the mist.
HEAL Africa helps victims of assault

Corneille (not her real name), 13, sits silently in a bare room in a clinic run by the UNICEF-supported organization, 'HEAL Africa'. She left an aunt’s house one evening to fetch water when she was attacked and raped. She crawled back to her aunt’s house and said nothing, ashamed of what had happened to her. When it became clear that Corneille was pregnant, her aunt threw her out.

By chance, Corneille found her way to HEAL Africa and it is here that she and her two-month year old baby now live.

Corneille is still severely affected – her face animated with a light smile only when she glances down at her baby. Many women at the centre reject children born out of rape, but Corneille has not. The baby, named Joy, represents the only brightness in her future.

HEAL Africa is doing all it can to help young girls and women victimized by assault. The clinic has a special ward and operating theatre specifically for women suffering from fistulas – a debilitating and painful condition that is a direct result of violent rape. Fistulas have left many women outcasts in their own villages, rejected by their husbands and families, and left alone with their pain as they scrap and beg around villages and camps.

The motto of an international campaign run by UNICEF and the global anti-violence movement, V-Day, says it all: “Stop raping our greatest resource. Power to women and girls in DRC.”

'Healing Arts' project

In conjunction with UNICEF, HEAL Africa also runs the ‘Healing Arts’ project from the clinic. This project encourages women who have suffered rape to go through extensive counselling; it also teaches them how to sew and design handbags, purses, scarves and table mats.

The handicrafts are sold through UNICEF partners, such as the V-Day organization, with the women receiving $1 for each item sold. The people behind Healing Arts hope to expand the retail network by riding a growing wave in sales of goods that assist developing countries.

“The project is an important part of the healing process,” said one clinic counsellor. “It begins to give back to these women some self-esteem, belief in themselves and an income.”



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