From abducted to now sewing her way into the future

One girl’s dream of rebuilding her life after abduction

UNICEF Democratic Republic of Congo
A young girl using a sewing machine
UNICEF/UN0538112/Rooftop Productions
18 November 2021

Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – The clucking sound of the sewing machine has Sarah*, 17, hooked. With great concentration, her eyes are fixed on the fabric she is sewing.

Sarah was separated from her family, siblings and home, when a non-state armed group raided her village in Masisi, North Kivu, in the DRC, and took her into the forest. She had no family, no education, and suffered psychological distress.

“I was living in Masisi when soldiers came and took us to the forest”, says Sarah.

Sarah recalls the suffering she endured under her captives. “We suffered a lot while in the forest.”

And Sarah is not alone. In 2020, more than 1,300 children were verified by the United Nations as abducted in West and Central Africa, including an increasing number of girls, representing 34 per cent of the total number of children verified as abducted within the region.

When a girl is abducted, this is often the beginning of a series of other violations; she also could be subject to recruitment and use, sexual violence, maiming or even killing.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 3,400 grave violations against children, such as recruitment and use by armed forces and non-state armed groups, abduction, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as killing and maiming, were verified by the United Nations during the first quarter of 2021 alone. This accounted for 64 per cent of the total number of violations verified by the UN in DRC for the full year of 2020.

After being abducted, Sarah managed to escape and find her way back to her village. She was received by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a UNICEF partner providing reintegration services for children associated with armed forces and non-state armed groups.

Sarah was placed with a foster family where she received psychosocial support and later received training as a seamstress.

Silhouette of a young woman sitting down
UNICEF/UN0538111/Rooftop Productions

I am happy that I have learned to sew different clothes [...] This is what makes me the happiest.”

Sarah*

Sarah worked hard to shift her thoughts from the past and focus on the future to set the stage for her happiness. The skills she has gained to sew and design clothing through the reintegration programme help her to focus on the future.

She is now fascinated by tailoring and design.

“I am happy that I have learned to sew different clothes, local designs and styles for men and women”, she says. “This is what makes me the happiest.”

New skill, fresh hopes for a brighter tomorrow

Sarah's sewing skills have given her the confidence to speak openly about her ambitions and dreams.

“I will open a school and keep learning new designs, make more money, build a career and start a family, as I keep making money.”

 “Today I woke up, had breakfast, went to class and began tailoring and cutting cloth,” she adds. “What I love doing most is sewing and working with my hands.”

The hands of a young woman marking lines in chalk on fabric
UNICEF/UN0538110/Rooftop Productions

Sarah is determined to realize her hopes and dreams.

UNICEF, through its reintegration programme, is working closely with IRC in Goma, providing mental health and psychosocial support and skills training for children and adolescents as an integral element of a child protection response in humanitarian situations.

 “My dream and hope for them is to get good jobs,” explains the Programme Officer in Goma, Françoise Matata Kobizoba, emphasizing that “skills in sewing, will help them take care of their households.”

Françoise Matata Kobizoba says the UNICEF supported reintegration programme is a cornerstone of supporting children released from armed forces and groups. The children are given essential life skills through vocational training to maximize their prospects.

“They interact with others, learn how to live and communicate well, and seize any opportunities that the future brings.”

*Name changed for protection