On the morning of Thursday, June 20, the KAIROS delegates gathered with about thirty people for a workshop on the subject of gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We heard stories of tragedy and stories of courage from several women who had been victims of sexual violence and had then found support from Héritiers de la Justice. Eliza was one of them. She is a small, wiry women, perhaps in her late forties. In her testimony, she told us she was at home with her husband and three children in their village in Sud Kivu Province when a group of armed men from the Rwandan militia forcibly entered their home. She immediately feared for her life and the lives of her family, but in this moment she told us how she resigned herself to the will of God. The soldiers executed her husband and her children in front of her very eyes, and then raped her. After this horrific experience, she fell into despair, believing her life was over. Later she was put in touch with members of Héritiers de la Justice, who accompanied her to the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu where she received treatment for her injuries. HJ staff also counseled and supported her through a process of de-traumatization and gradual recovery.
Eliza was not reluctant to tell her story. In fact, she describes herself now as an advocate for women’s rights who is anxious to share the story of sexual violence in the DRC as it has personally affected her. She has been strengthened by her work training other women to stand up for their rights and to struggle against gender-based violence in all forms. I was left with a sense of deep admiration for this strong women who had everything taken from her by force, except her dignity. I carry with me a searing memory of Eliza singing and dancing her way up to the microphone before she spoke, as if to say, I can only speak to you in Swahili, but by this dance and song, I can communicate my love of life despite the horrors I have experienced.
I do not think I will ever forget Eliza.
Peter Lamont is a member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. He trained and practiced as a criminal lawyer and will retire this summer after 10 years of service as a military judge in the Canadian Forces. Peter is representing the Presbyterian Church in Canada on the KAIROS delegation to the Democratic Republic of Congo.