Beware the front of a woman and the back of a horse.
“The women are so keen to learn.”
Who: Maison Dorcas
What: Help Panzi Hospital’s patients who have been the victims of violence to make the transition back into society.
“Most of the women have fled from areas of conflict and have never been to school,” says Zawadi Nabintu, manager of Maison Dorcas. “They need to learn to read, write and count. We combine this basic education with family planning, childcare, information about HIV/AIDS and other essentials. The women are so keen to learn.”
She introduces us to an old woman who has moved away from the area and earns her living selling bananas and tomatoes, but who still comes here every day to continue in the school. The woman carries a whole cluster of pale green bananas on her back.
“We had to speed up the pace of the education before the presidential elections last autumn,” says Mama Zawadi, as she is known to everyone. The women wanted to be able to write the name of the president they wanted to vote for.
After their basic education the students go on to vocational training. The women can choose whether they want to learn to weave baskets, make soap, do dress making or embroider. In the embroidery room they sell cloths which depict the suffering of the Congolese people: happy people working the land until green-clad men with raised weapons come storming in to rape, murder and plunder. The next piece of embroidery shows people on the run, in tented camps. In the bottom right-hand corner of the cloth a boat glides out from land, towards a hopeful future.
Their families, sometimes entire villages, have disowned them.
Many of those who come to Dorcas once their medical treatment at Panzi Hospital has been completed have no home. Their families, sometimes entire villages, have disowned them. If they have also had a child with a rapist, the child too can be in danger. “A child of a snake is also a snake.”
“At first we had a limit of three months. We weren’t going to allow anyone to stay longer,” Mama Zawadi tells us. “It didn’t work. Now some women leave us after three weeks while others stay for several years. Some have no will to live. They just sit there and don’t want anything. They can’t start an education until they have decided to survive.”
Mapendo N’Zonga is 33 years old and works at Dorcas. It is seven years since her husband was killed and she was kidnapped by militiamen. She managed to escape and eventually arrived at Panzi Hospital, and later at Dorcas.
“I work here as a basket weaving instructor, and I’m finally happy. I’m earning money, I can pay my rent and support myself. Dorcas is the best thing that has happened to me.”
They can’t start an education until they have decided to survive.
Dorcas has built some small houses nearby. The women who can manage to move but have no family to go back to can live there.
“Around 30 women with children live in our two residential complexes, but altogether we support 300 women each month, in different ways.”
Micro loans is one method. The women can borrow small sums of money, at first it was just 30 dollars, to buy material, or small things they can sell, or to pay the fee to take a course.
“One of our givers insisted we lent to men too,” says Mama Zawadi, “but we’ve stopped doing that. The men weren’t satisfied with the 30 or 50 dollars which was our start-up loan, they wanted 150 dollars or more. And then they didn’t pay it back! No, we’re sticking to the women. We can trust them.”
We look round the neat and tidy bedrooms. Mosquito nets hang over the bunk beds and everyone’s private possessions are stacked into boxes and bags. This evening Mama Zawadi is expecting a new guest. She is a victim of rape who has been treated at Panzi Hospital. Her situation is similar to many of the others, in that her husband has been reluctant to take her back, but when he finally said yes, and she was about to return home, she realised he had taken a new wife. On top of that, the woman who has been raped is infected with HIV.
“She is very bitter. I can understand her. She can’t go home again. That’s when we’re needed.”
Maternal deaths: Just over 900 deaths per l00,000 births ****
Number of children/woman: 5.2 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Abortion is forbidden, even when the mother’s life is at risk.
Law against rape within marriage: No
Violence against women in close relationships: 1.8 million women will be raped during their lifetime. Congo is the second most dangerous country in the world for a woman to live in.