DRC: Supporting survivors in conflict zones




              From 04 to 10 January 2021, a session was held in Keshero (GOMA), in eastern DR Congo, a session organized by the Service for the Ongoing Formation of Missionaries of Africa and the Justice and Peace Commission of the International Union. Superiors General and Superiors General (UISG-USG, Rome)

The theme : " Training in the reception, support and reintegration of survivors of sexual violence in conflict zones ”.

               The session began Tuesday evening with vespers followed by a fraternal evening of presentation. It was inaugurated by Monsignor NGUMBI Willy, Bishop of Goma.

               This session had like goal : provide people involved in welcoming survivors with tools and insights into their practice and the spirit in which they are invited to experience this delicate welcome.

In the workshop, the emphasis was on the current context in the DRC, particularly in its eastern part, the management of trauma, the support of victims, and the importance for a caregiver (doctor, nurse) or a companion ( psychologist) to take care of himself. This has been emphasized mainly to avoid secondary trauma or burn-out of the caregiver or the caregiver.

The constitution of small groups of 5 or 6 people allowed each to speak frankly about the most salient cases hosted in their center and the way in which each tried to approach these cases in order to reduce the suffering of the woman until what it finds the hoped for psychological well-being.

It was also an opportunity for the guides trained on the job to learn how to ensure the reception and maintenance of people who are victims of sexual violence.

                 During this session, several sub-themes were discussed but some caught my attention, it is among other things the sub-theme entitled: "dare to show oneself vulnerable" developed by Father Bernard UGEUX. Here is a small excerpt from this intervention:

“To dare to be vulnerable is to dare to expose oneself… It is to take the risk of being reached, injured, even destabilized… by the suffering of the other, by their fragility, which refers to my fragility… When we dare to be - and to show themselves - vulnerable, others dare to expose their fragility, seek compassion ... Some will take advantage of the vulnerability that offers itself to hurt, to settle accounts, perhaps because of wounds which are in them, in them ... Sometimes, in a more or less perverse - or perhaps desperate - way they will want to verify the extent to which vulnerability allows only compassion, listening, welcoming ...

To dare to be vulnerable, you must also have been yourself injured without having been destroyed, have been affected by the defect in the breastplate, have been torn without the gap having closed definitively, hardened ... To be vulnerable, you must to be strong…, strong in the sense of being built internally, and this interior construction can only be done through the path of forgiveness, and also thanks to the learning of the consent to allow oneself to be loved… No longer relying on myself , aware of my inability to love when I am hurt, confronted with my inner resistance to forgiveness, tempted to fall back on my wounds and my limits, happy am I if, accepting to let myself be loved, I allow myself to be healed thanks to the proximity of others, of an Other, who loves me and welcomes me with my weaknesses, without judgment… as I am.

This interior construction opens me to an acceptance of myself, to a consent to my fragility, to a release from the temptation of “heroism” or of a hardening - illusorously - protective ”.

                     During the session, we also benefited from moments of relaxation exercises. This time allowed us to liquidate our stresses and traumas due to everyday life and the challenges of life. Using this tool helped us to remain in a state of peace and psychological well-being throughout the session. It has been suggested to us to integrate these practices into our daily lifestyle in order to resort to them instinctively as soon as we become aware of being stressed or drained of our energy.

                     After the tour de table of sharing support for victims of rape, we unanimously realized that what the survivor needs is:

  • To be believed: listened to with kindness;
  • To be protected: put out of danger;
  • To be understood and not to be judged;
  • To be supported: informed, on all the steps to be taken;
  • To be taken care of: directed towards specialized professionals so that their psychological suffering is relieved,
  • To be respected: having the courage to come to the consultation deserves respect and compassion.

What we need as companions (ices) it is :

  • Identify psychological suffering, ask the question about violence, listen and free speech;
  • Take a stand against violence, for the law, against the aggressive system;
  • Examine and assess the psychological suffering, the distress, the danger incurred, the need for help;
  • Help, guide, support;
  • Knowing how to explain the mechanisms at work in psychotrauma and in the aggressor system;
  • Accepting being powerless, knowing how to be patient, knowing how to work in a network.

                          It is clear that several elements evoked in this workshop were not unknown to me, but the fact of hearing it said by someone else, it reasoned differently in my psyche. 

On the other hand, I also felt that, for an active participation in this kind of session, it was necessary to have a long-term experience in the reception and support of people victims of sexual violence.

Throughout the session, a need was felt: setting up a network to help each other in case of difficulty in supporting survivors of sexual violence.

                The session ended with a mass of thanksgiving followed by a presentation of the certificate of participation.


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Keshero on the shores of Lake Kivu (chez les Pallottins)

                                                                                                    Fidelity NTSHIKALA