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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

UNICEF Executive Director hears stories of hope amidst conflict in eastern DR Congo

© UNICEF DR Congo/2009/Asselin
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman (second from left) sits alongside Programme Coordinator Lorenza Trulli of the Italian NGO COOPI while they listen to the story of women who have taken children formerly kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army into their homes in Dungu, DR Congo.

By Eva Gilliam

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman is completing a five-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assess the situation of women and children amidst what is widely seen as Africa's worst humanitarian crisis. Here is one in a series of related reports.

BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 31 August 2009 – The deep, ongoing problems facing women and children in eastern DR Congo have been highlighted during the visit by UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. 

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Embroiled in conflict since the mid 1990s, eastern DR Congo has seen the widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Rape has devastated the lives of women and children, and their families and communities, and they remain at risk today.

Treatment for violent sexual assault
In Bukavu, Veneman visited a UNICEF-supported hospital where nearly 4,000 women who suffered violent sexual assault have been treated. The hospital staff perform fistula repair operations. 

“These acts of terrorism aim to destroy our very humanity,” said the founder of the Panzi Foundation and Panzi Hospital, Dr. Denis Mukwege.

© UNICEF DR Congo/2009/Asselin
Ann M. Veneman walks with representatives from partner non-governmental organizations through rows of basic shelters at the Mugunga I camp for displaced people outside Goma, DR Congo.

For those who can’t make it to Bukavu for treatment, UNICEF supports a mobile clinic that has treated nearly 30,000 women and children who have been victims of sexual violence.

Memories of violence
In Dungu, the Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army continues to terrorize communities – abducting, torturing and raping children and adults. During her visit, Veneman met one boy who had experienced the violence firsthand.

“They made me work for them carrying things,” said Musa (not his real name), 13. “But then I got an infection in my foot and was no use. So they beat me really badly and left me in the forest to die.”

UNICEF arranged for Musa to be cared for by COOPI, an Italian NGO, and he became one of 400 children enrolled in the organization’s child protection programme. After several operations he can now walk, but with extreme difficulty. He has taught himself to use a bicycle, and he hopes to have one of his own eventually, so that he can go to and from school.

“I really want to get back to school, because one day I want to be a government minister,” said Musa.

© UNICEF DR Congo/2009/Asselin
An elderly woman carries a load of wood on her back as she walks though the Mugunga I camp outside Goma.

‘A true example of humanitarianism’

“While I was horrified by the violence inflicted on these children, I was inspired by the sheer will and determination of the community to help,” said Veneman.

“I met five women, each of whom had taken in traumatized children despite having limited resources and large families of their own,” she added. “This kind of community care is a true example of humanitarianism.”




31 August 2009: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman's visit with survivors of sexual violence in eastern DR Congo.
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