By Evelyn Iritani, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and senior editor at the radio production house Bending Borders. Iritani recently returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo to report on an initiative, partly supported by Seattle organizations and humanitarians, that empowers those most disproportionately and unfairly afflicted by the cycle of violence – women.
- Women are especially at risk in the violence and instability that frequently erupts in DR Congo.
Goma, DR Congo – The first thing Modestine Etoy does when the young mothers arrive at her door is listen.
It may take hours, or even days, before they are comfortable enough to share their secrets. But eventually they spill out.
The women tell stories of rape, incest or some other horrible abuse, often committed by people they trusted, such as teachers or relatives. They talk of being chased from their homes and raped by men with AK-47s, who left them for dead before moving on to claim a new woman or piece of territory in the civil war that has long decimated the eastern regions of this impoverished Central African country.
Almost always, they end with some version of “Fini mama” – Mother, my life is over.
But Etoy knows otherwise.
- Modestine Etoy
The 31-year-old Congolese native is the program manager at the Humanitarian Organization for Lasting Development or HOLD, a non-profit organization in Goma that helps teenage mothers rebuild lives shattered by violence, an unwanted pregnancy or sometimes both, sadly intertwined.
Etoy starts by trying to convince their families, or the families of the fathers of their children, to accept the young women back into their homes.
This isn’t easy in the Congo, where illegitimacy is shameful and pregnant teenagers are often rejected by their families or sent away to have their babies in secret. Continue reading