Supporting women as they heal from trauma
8 July 2021
Trigger warning: References to sexual violence
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), CAFOD funds the Olame Centre. The Centre supports women who have survived sexual violence and rape with counselling and training.
The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of the importance of community support and inclusion. The isolation we’ve experienced through various lockdowns has been tough. However, isolation when you’re trying to heal from emotional and physical trauma, is next to impossible. Unfortunately, beyond the physical and mental trauma of their ordeal, women who have survived sexual violence are often shunned from their communities, accused of being traitors or diseased. As a result, they are outcasts and isolated.
A brave and inspirational woman named Mapendo knows how bad this can be. The following is Mapendo’s story in her own words. She wants you to know what happened.
“I was 18 when I was raped. We were home at night. I heard noises outside. There was shouting and knocking on our door. We opened it to a group of men. I was very scared because they were very well armed. They took us to the forest and raped us.
After we escaped and returned to the village, several people pointed fingers saying we are traitors, saying we had AIDS. It was shameful. I felt isolated and unable to go out of the house or talk to people about what I had experienced.
I found out I was pregnant. My ordeal grew, but I understood my child was innocent, so I bore the pregnancy. I gave birth to a girl. She does not have a father. The medical care of the child costs me dearly.
Later on, a young man told me he loved me. He said words of love that I had never heard before. I believed him. I found joy, but it did not last. He left me when my daughter was eight years old. He told my friends I am not a good woman, and he cannot live with a woman who has been raped. I was pregnant again.
That’s when I got help from the Olame Centre. We needed peace. They gave me some money to start farming and raising a goat and rabbits. I received health cards to help with the medical care of my children. The Olame Centre supports my daughter’s studies.”
What are the ‘Listening Rooms’?
Alongside counselling and medical support, Mapendo made use of the Olame Centre’s special ‘Listening Rooms’. These are safe spaces for women who have survived sexual violence to come together to tell their stories, to share their pain with people who understand, to learn that they are not meek victims but powerful survivors.
The local experts who work with the Olame Centre recognise that the first duty of love is to listen. A friendly ear, a quiet space, an hour or two of talking and genuine, active listening – this can make all the difference. The truth is, when we’re in pain. When we are suffering, we all need someone to talk to, we all need someone to listen.
When we talk, and when people truly listen, our traumas are no longer trapped internally. We cannot let trauma fester in isolation. Once the trauma is released, it no longer has power over us. This is the beauty of the Olame Centre’s Listening Rooms.
What different types of training are available?
Women at the Olame Centre can complete training to earn money and become independent through farming or activities like soap selling, sewing and making briquettes. More recently, they have also been making masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
The fantastic thing is, with your support, we can reach out to more women like Mapendo around the world. Together, we can make sure that no one suffers in isolation and that everyone will have the opportunity to heal in communion with others – because no one should be beyond the reach of love.
If you've been affected by anything you have read you can contact Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999