Even 10 years later, the events and souvenirs of what took place in Bernadette Munihire’s life are still very vivid to her.
It was a Sunday, just like any other for Bernadette and her family who lived peacefully in Mutongo, in Eastern DRC. But everything changed when the Mai-Mai, a rebel group, attacked her village.
“As soon as I heard the gunfire, I immediately ran outside and was horrified as I saw my parent’s house burning,” relates Bernadette. “When my sister ran to the house to save them, the rebels put a bullet in her head.”
Attacked by rebels
Bernadette and her family were then captured and forced to move along with the group, carrying their equipment. It’s on this road that Bernadette would experience atrocities that words can’t describe.
Bernadette is calm as she remembers the horrors of that day.
“Some men took me, tied me up and raped me,” recalls Bernadette, with a disconcerting calm. “All of this… in front of my husband and children.”
A few hours later, Bernadette and her family were still clueless about what was ahead of them as they were walking. Suddenly, a second rebel group came out of the bushes to attack them. Bernadette’s persecutors fled right away so she took advantage of the situation, and escaped with her family.
“Through all this panic, I realise that the Mai-Mai had taken my daughter with them,” tells Bernadette. To date, she does not know what happened to her.
As she arrived in the city of Goma, she was referred to a project called Wamama Simameni, which means “Women, stand up” in Swahili. Since 2009, this partnership project between World Vision and Heal Africa has not only helped thousands of women who have suffered from sexual violence, but also women suffering from poverty.
“Wamama Simameni has saved my life,” firmly declares Bernadette. “They gave me hope when I thought everything was lost.”
In the last three years, Bernadette has received psycho-social and medical support. She has also learned techniques to cultivate mushrooms, has learned sewing and was informed about her rights as a Congolese woman.
Some of the women benefitting from the program gathered in front of the compound. Photo by Gilbertine Julie Uwimana
“While all aspects of the program are equally important, we need to ensure women know their rights and advocate for them,” says Mamie Lofembo, World Vision’s coordinator of Wamama Simameni. “For example, girls are not always treated like boys, they don’t always have access to education like boys do, but we want to teach women and communities that girls have the same rights as boys.”
In order to facilitate changes in attitude and practices related to gender justice, Wamama Simameni has created local committees who are engaged to bring changes in their community that are related to the position and rights of women.
Because Wamama Simameni addresses different issues regarding women, women like Bernadette are better equipped to reintegrate back into their community. Now that she has healed, Bernadette can now stand upand take proper care of her children.
“I apply what I learned with Wamama Simameni at home and because of this, I can afford to send all my children to go to school and I am able to hope for a bright future for them.”
Facts about Wamama Simameni
- Wamama Simameni is present in 12 different locations across Eastern DRC
- World Vision partners with Heal Africa in six of the 12 locations
- Wamama Simameni focuses on: Psychological support, Physical needs if required, Teaching the women about their rights, Developing income generating skills through practical technical training, Assisting small groups of women in income generation through microfinance or rotating credit of small animals, Reinforcing access to justice for the women victims of sexual violence, Raising awareness in communities about women’s rights and how to consider them as equal partners in community development to facilitate integration.
- Wamama Simameni supports women who have suffered from sexual violence, but also vulnerable women who suffer from extreme poverty to avoid stigmatization
- In the project based in Goma, 520 women have been helped and supported since 2009