Grace Under Pressure: Colette of the Congo

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.

Congo-rape-victim-shields-007Imagine 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.

Virunga was Africa’s first national park and established to protect one of the rarest species of animals on the planet — the mountain gorillas of the Virunga Range. The 3000 square mile preserve is a spectacular melange of thousands of other species too, from the velvet-skinned, living fossil known as the Okapi to indigenous elephant, chimpanzee, and giraffe populations. The Park is also home to a particularly murderous species known as the FDLR or the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. This remnant of the Hutu Power rebel front are engaged in a ruthless civil war against Congo’s ruling party. Many of the FDLR leadership have been linked to the genocidal putsch against the Rwandan Tutsi’s in 1994 as well as international terrorist organizations. Estimates of the Rwandan genocide vary, but conservative figures put the number of Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers slaughtered between April and June of 1994 at 500,000 to 800,000.
In the Rwandan genocide, rape and sexual mutilation of women and children was an orchestrated tactic of control by Hutu Power to intimidate the civilian population. Thus the rebels of FDLR cannot return to Rwanda without being held to account for their actions in courts, nor could they easily be accepted by a third country. According to the U.S. National Counter-terrorism Center, the FDLR is believed to be responsible for about a dozen terrorist attacks committed in 2009. These acts of terrorism have killed hundreds of civilians in Eastern Congo. Pariahs in most every sense, the FDLR patrol Virunga hunting  wild game for food and humans for sport. They are not the only predators in Virunga; there are many more gangs, factions, and displaced men all hunting women.

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

42 thoughts on “Grace Under Pressure: Colette of the Congo”

  1. idealist707 1, February 18, 2013 at 12:58 pm


    I’ve been on my feet since 8 AM, hospital for 3 errands. local clinic, pharmacy, and a walk of 20 minutes to a´stóre. And the back to the pharmacy. Home now at ca 6 PM.
    New el-conversion for heart flimmer next week and ablation operation March 21. Plus other med stuff.

    The point is that I don’t have the energy to keep up here or even pay close attention to what you post, which you deserve. Will have to content myself with lurking.
    Get well soon!

    In the mean time, here is some rock n roll from my Texas Sunday School Class to sooth your particulars: 😉

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