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To See and Be Seen

To See and Be Seen

In the world’s “most dangerous place for women,” the greatest fear isn’t rape or death—it’s being forgotten. My heartbreaking experience in a displacement camp for the people of Congo.
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She was haggard and beautiful, pulling her sweater closer to her body as the rain clouds above us threatened. Her name was Uwimana Marie, she was 50 years old, and she timidly spoke as I asked about her flight to the camp.

"When you're a refugee, you lose everything," she said while inspecting her perpetually moving hands. "But the most painful part of becoming a refugee is losing your right to think. I used to think about my farm, my goats, and the education of my children. Now, I only think about how to survive each day."

Four other voices murmured their affirmation. At this, the floodgates opened, and each found confidence to pour out their own story of loss and lament.

A forgotten conflict

The Nkamira Transit Camp—a camp set up by the United Nations for Congo's "Internally Displaced People"—is located just across the Rwandan border. To say the camp is "filled to capacity" would be an understatement. Last month, a kind but overworked camp director arranged for me to meet with Uwimana Marie and four other women who sought refuge in the camp. These women, all between the ages 40 and 80, represent a demographic that makes up almost 60 percent of the camp population. As the camp director and I walked past the tarp walls and tin roofs of 11 warehouse-sized living blocks, I saw women and children in every nook and cranny. The women were cooking, washing, carrying bundles of charcoal, and waiting in endless lines, while children were kicking balls made of banana leaves and trash. They were all ultimately trying to get on with their lives in this new place. Every pair of eyes I looked into seemed to plead, "Do you see me? I'm here, I'm here!"

As a "transit camp," refugees are meant to only stay a maximum of three days. Uwimana Marie and her four companions had been here for well over nine months. They fled from their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Dubiously referred to as "the most dangerous place to be a woman," "the worst place to be a mother," "rape capital of the world," and "the world's greatest humanitarian disaster," the conflict in the Congo is regarded by the international community as intractable and hopeless. Every day, these five women lived in the midst of the "headline" statistics of this war: 6 million dead, 2.7 million internally displaced, almost 450,000 refugees, and a woman or child raped every 60 seconds.

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JoEllyn Fountain

February 05, 2014  6:36pm

Thank you for sharing these stories. Too many people don't know about DRC and what has been going on there for all of these years. We were missionaries in Uganda for 8 1/2 years and I knew many Congolese men and Women. The stories you share are like so many others I heard from Congolese, Rwandese, and those from Northern Uganda. God is faithful and these people recognize His faithfulness while they are surrounded by evil -- and they are not afraid to call it that. There is no other way to explain it. Please keep sharing the stories and keep assisting those who are already doing the needed work in Congo.

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Betty O'Maker

January 19, 2014  7:14am

Thanks for bringing flesh and bones, soul, and spirit to the plight of the women in the Congo and the displacement camps. They were not presented as one dimensional statistics but as real, multidimensional people experiencing devastating trauma and yet in many cases rising above their experiences in hope and forgiveness. Their plight is horrifying and yet their dignity and strength is still evident, I am both challenged and inspired by these women.

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Sandi Baron

January 18, 2014  10:33pm

Belinda, you told their story to our hearts. I enjoyed hearing it again. I remember those ladies every day and still am in awe of how God shows us they are not forgotten. Thanks for all you do. I hope we can get together again. I loved our "together" energies joined by the Holy Spirit. Sandi Baron

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