Cultivating hope in Congo: Masika’s story

Sharon Fawcett - Getting it Right (Shane Magee/AQ)

Due to the nature of the subject matter, some may find the content of this column disturbing.

Forty-eight women are raped every hour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Masika Katsuva was one of them.

While a decade of ethnic conflict and war in the DRC officially ended in 2003, armed militias and the Congolese military continue to battle within the country.

Profits from the conflict mineral trade fund the fighting. These minerals—gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten—make their way into the electronic devices we use.

In attempts to control the mines, rape is used as a weapon of war because it fractures society.

Masika was living a good life as the wife of a successful boutique owner, until militia members broke into their home early in the morning on Oct. 29, 1999.

After taking everything they owned, the soldiers told the couple they were going to kill them, but not with bullets.

In a documentary, Masika recalls the scene that unfolded in their bedroom, as she pleaded for mercy and soldiers attacked her husband.

“They started from the feet and as they dismembered him, he was still talking and pleading. They continued to his torso…They got to his intestines…and then they got to his penis and they cut it off and put it aside. And he was still speaking and pleading. He was left in half, until they pulled his heart out. Then he stopped speaking.”

One of the men asked Masika, “Mama, have you eaten chewing gum?” Then, he chopped up her husband’s penis, and forced her to chew and swallow it. Next came the order to gather the pieces of her husband into a pile and lie on top of them. One-by-one, the soldiers raped the young woman. She stopped counting at 22.

Masika heard her two daughters, aged 14 and 13, screaming in the next bedroom.

“Mama, we are being killed!” She lost consciousness.

Badly injured, Masika spent six months in hospital, and then returned home to find that her daughters were both pregnant with babies conceived through rape.

Soon afterward, her husband’s family sold her house and kicked Masika and her children out.

They found their way to a village where women were being trained to teach about rape and its effects. Masika took the training and worked there for more than a year before starting an association of her own.

Today, the survivor is a caregiver, counsellor and “mama” to women and girls who come to her following unimaginable abuse, some carrying the reminders of the sexual violence they’ve endured in bundles on their backs.

Masika cares for more than 100 women at a time. Like her, they have nowhere else to go. With funds donated by a private sponsor, Masika purchased a plot of land that the women farm together, planting crops to feed themselves and their children.

“The field provides hope for a better life,” she explained.

Through psychological support and economic assistance, Masika has helped over 6,000 women rebuild their lives.

She counsels the victims, takes them to hospital for treatment, and looks after orphans whose mothers died because of rape, as well as children who were born from rape—including her grandchildren.

Her work is dangerous. While helping women at her centre, Masika has been raped three times, tortured, beaten and left to die. And while she gives all that she has to help others, there’s no one to support her.

“Sometimes it’s so draining, I ask God to kill me so I can rest,” she said.

“Yet I worry if I wasn’t here because my daughters say they hate their kids born from rape.”

My goal in writing this column over the past seven months was to bring awareness to global human rights issues, but also to inspire readers to re-evaluate their lives, recognize their blessings, and risk an attempt to do something—no matter how big or small—to make life better for someone else.

If a woman like Masika can overcome obstacles, violence and suffering to help victims of human rights abuses, what can we accomplish?

To learn more about Masika’s story and conflict minerals visit:http://www.unwatchable.cc andh ttp://www.raisehopeforcongo.org. Watch the documentary about Masika’s project, “Field of Hope,” on YouTube.

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