Teenage Congolese mother rebuilds life after ordeal of LRA captivity

Telling the Human Story, 13 April 2012

© UNHCR/M.Hofer
A woman tells of recent Lord's Resistance Army attacks on her village in north-east Congo.

DUNGU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, April 13 (UNHCR) It's a scene of quiet and peaceful industry. A young woman pulls golden baguettes out of an oven as her baby son plays on the floor.

But it hides the pain and abuse that 17-year-old Rose* suffered as a prisoner for almost two years of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal Ugandan rebel group. And the father of her 15-month-old boy is an LRA fighter whose commander gave Rose to him as a gift soon after she was abducted from her home three years ago in north-east Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Aged 14 at the time, Rose and another girl of the same age were working in the fields near the small town of Bangadi when they were taken away by LRA fighters operating in the area. She spent one year and eight months with the rebels before being rescued by the Ugandan armed forces in late 2010.

Today, Rose is trying to rebuild her life in the town of Dungu, where she works in a bakery run by a church-affiliated group, Dynamic Women for Peace, which receives support from a UNHCR partner organization. But LRA activities continue to displace people in the region more than 4,000 people have fled their homes to escape attacks since the end of last year and more than 300,000 have been uprooted since 2008 in north-west DRC's Orientale province. Rose spoke to UNHCR.

Rose's Story:

"When we arrived at the LRA camp [35 kilometres from Bangadi], the commander forced us to take husbands and to have sex with them that and every other night. Unfortunately, my husband had a sexually transmitted infection and he passed it on to me. Two weeks later, I had a terrible pain in my lower abdomen. The commander gave me medicine to ease the pain, but it did not cure the disease. I was told that I should not have sexual relations for two months, but after one month my husband forced me to sleep with him. He said that he would kill me if I refused. [Rose still takes medicine for the disease].

"There were many other girls with us in the bush. We were the wives of the rebels, but we were also forced to work as porters. The rebels were on the move every day and we had to carry their goods. We were given protection for our shins because of the tall grass, but it still hurt. Every night we were forced to have sex with our husbands. If we refused to work or tried to protest, they would beat us. They killed one person who tried to escape.

"One day, in 2010, the fighters left to attack the village of Tapili and capture people there. It was at this moment that the Ugandan military came and rescued me and other children. I did not know at the time that I was pregnant. They brought me back to Bangadi, where I lived with my uncle because my father had died when I was a child and my mother had left for Dungu. The girl who was abducted with me never came back. I heard that the LRA took her to Uganda.

"After I was freed, I thought about going back to live in the bush with the LRA because I was so traumatized. I was scared of everyone. Sometimes, I went back for a few hours or a day and people went looking for me. I started to get help to recover from the trauma and to forget my ordeal. COOPI [Italian aid agency Cooperazione Internationale] regularly visited me and gave me clothes.

"When I discovered that I was pregnant, I wanted to abort because I thought that I would be giving birth to a bandit. But I listened to advice [from the church and those around her] and decided against an abortion. And one day the Red Cross came and took me to Dungu to be reunited with my mother. But she rejected me; she could not accept what had happened to me during my captivity. I stayed first with a foster family and now I live with an uncle, but he does not take care of me. Sometimes I go for two days without eating

"The pregnancy was very complicated and I had neither the strength nor the milk to breastfeed. I did not like the child at first, but I realized that he was a good child and I have come to love him . . . My child became very sick after he was born and I could not do anything to make him better. I depended on the generosity of the nurses at the hospital to take care of him.

"One day, I was selling charcoal in Dungu when a nun came up and started talking to me. Her name was Sister Angelique and she took me under her protection and introduced me to the centre for reintegration and development support [run by Dynamic Women for Peace].

"I learned to bake bread there and I now bake three or four times a week and sell the bread on the streets of Dungu. I can earn 8,000 to 9,000 Congolese francs a week [US$8 to US$9], but it is a difficult job. I have to walk quite a long way around town. When I have problems, I go to see the nun, and she helps me. If I don't have flour, she helps me to get some.

"My dream is to earn enough money to buy a sewing machine. I would like a more stable job and a better future. I learned how to sew at the centre and I would like to use this skill to become independent."

* Name changed for protection reasons.

By Céline Schmitt in Dungu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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