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Reflection in DR Congo

2 September 2022

Reflections in DR Congo

Thérèse Mema Mapenzi is the Director of Centre Olame, a Catholic women’s organisation working for the integral promotion of women and girls, and supporting mainly survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). She’s also a member of SCIAF’s Board, and Chair of our Integral Human Development Advisory Committee.

During Lent 2020, we shared stories of some of those Thérèse was working with in DR Congo, and showed how your support can make a real difference in their lives. Here, she reflects on the work she does and how her faith gives her strength.

The road to recovery

In my town of Bukavu, in the eastern part of DR Congo, sexual and gender-based violence is used as a tool of war. But, for survivors who have been traumatised, Centre Olame helps turn lives around – from pain and suffering, to lives filled with hope.

Thérèse Mema Mapenzi - DR Congo
One of the main ways we help people is through ‘Listening Rooms’. These are safe spaces where we welcome survivors who experienced rape, or who are living with sexually transmitted illnesses such as HIV.

Thérèse Mema Mapenzi Director of Centre Olame

We listen to their problems. We provide different methods for them to express their trauma. We support their husbands, families and children. And we try to understand what they need from us to move forward in their lives.

What my faith teaches me

We work with people of all faiths and none at all. But, for me, my Catholic faith is very important because it teaches me love. It describes what actions I should be using to help those who are suffering – and how these can be an expression of love. When I work with the most vulnerable women and girls, my faith gives me strength when I feel weak. I trust in the Lord and He gives me courage – and Scripture inspires me too.

For instance, the story of Tamar, the daughter of King David, who was raped, silenced and treated with contempt. This still happens to women today, but through this passage we are reminded of the importance of speaking out and taking action – if we don’t, the cycle of violence continues and injustice prevails.

There are also many stories of female prostitutes. In His encounters with these women, Jesus treats them with love and compassion, and without judgement. When I work, I try to emulate Jesus’ example. This allows me to strengthen my faith, and work with hope – hope that a better world is possible.

Integral Human Development

Working with SCIAF is so special because we all share a passion for developing the ‘whole person’, as well as the communities in which they live – we don’t just provide short-term relief in one area of their lives.

In practice, this means we often address someone's basic needs first, such as medical care or enabling them to access the money they need to purchase essentials. However, Integral Human Development reminds us that we must also develop other aspects of their lives too – building a person’s self-confidence and self-esteem, developing their spirituality or enabling them to access justice.

At Centre Olame, for instance, we have a programme to identify well-known figures in the local community, such as religious leaders, female youth or prominent business people, who can act as local champions. With training, these individuals are able to publicly demonstrate their commitment to preventing sexual and gender-based violence, protecting survivors, combatting discrimination, and being champions for change. This sort of local participation means survivors build up a network of community allies, allowing them to feel like valued citizens once again.

Reaching out with love

I am really thankful to the people of Scotland for their continued expressions of love. Though they don’t know us personally, they hear our stories and the problems we are facing – and then they respond with contributions via SCIAF, and their prayers of support. I cannot think of the words to fully express my gratitude. May God bless you all.

This work in DR Congo is kindly supported by SCIAF supporters and the UK Government through UK Aid Match.

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