By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an on-going series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously and honorably make positive differences in their own lives and the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes reside among us and serve as quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward — and ours too.
Imagine a day where you are confronted by ten women who have been beaten and raped and are desperately seeking your help. Imagine those women have done nothing more than venture out to feed their families knowing full well that armed gangs are hunting them for sport. Then imagine you are confronted by ten more women the next day and then the next and so on in a horrific circulating daily struggle to survive. That is the world of Colette. Colette cannot give her last name for fear of reprisal from the same thugs who torment her fellow refugees at a camp just north of one of the Congo’s provincial capitals at Goma. Fifty thousand displaced men, women, and children are crowded in the camp which lies adjacent to the Virunga National Park. They are just a fraction of the estimated 250,000 people displaced in East Congo by the civil war despite the presence of the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world.
The women of the Goma camp receive some humanitarian aid to feed their families but is rarely enough to meet the daily dietary requirements. The only other source of food and fuel lies in Virunga where even Congolese policeman are afraid to venture in the daytime. Thus the women are forced into the Faustian choice between starvation and rape. The women must enter the park under cover of darkness to gather what firewood they can carry to cook their food and to sell in Goma’s marketplace. They are easy targets for gangs of armed men who rape on average at least ten women a day. Nationwide, the estimates are that 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo. One of the victims was Colette.
Colette occupies a tiny, dark corner of the Goma camp where she runs a counseling center for the rape victims. If emergency medical services are required, she accompanies the victim to the camp medical tent. Colette also intervenes with victims’ spouses to help them understand and accept what has happened. In this patriarchal society, this is no simple task. But mostly, Colette just listens to the stories of these victims. She provides a comforting ear and empathetic touch to counter the uncivilized brutality suffered by these women and young girls. Colette hopes a long-term solution can be reached to help permanently relocate the refugees even as the Congolese civil war continues to rage despite UN intervention. For now, all she can do it listen and hope. In a place as dire as Congo, that is still remarkable.
Source: UN Dispatch
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger