War destroyed her, but community helped her rebuild

One of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman or girl is in the midst of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — increasing in fame as the rape capital of the world. Here, unconscionable rape is used as a weapon of terror, and it is effective. The emotional, social and physical wounds set upon a victim can last for the rest of her life. In Congo, you can find whole clinics dedicated to repairing the insides of women and girls who survived this ultimate form of abuse.

I’ve never been there myself, and I usually try to avoid making sweeping generalities … but from what I’ve been told, the people there are survivors. Their hope is resilient, their spirits are vibrant, and the bond of community offers up restoration even for the most broken and destitute. This is the story of Sifa.

This story comes from a field report dated April 14, 2011 (note: these photos are meant to represent Sifa’s story; only one photo includes Sifa herself).

There was a time when Sifa’s life was pleasant and safe; she lived in peace with her husband and two children. Suffering was not part of her story until a gang of soldiers invaded her home, murdered her husband, and raped her–15 men, one after the other.

Miraculously, after testing, Sifa was found to be free from HIV. But she suffered from incontinence due to a fistula, repairable only by surgery. The constant smell of urine combined with the stigma of rape made her an outcast, so she ran with her children back to her mother’s house.

Sifa’s mother convinced her to seek help from Panzi Hospital, where her torn body was sewn back together and allowed to begin to heal.

Not wanting Sifa and her small children running around “like rats,” Sifa’s mother pushed them out of the house. Stealing and doing favors just to feed her children, the little family survived until another man agreed to take Sifa as his wife. She bore a child with him before he suddenly passed away, again leaving the mother and children with nothing.

The report from the field says, “Sifa thought her fate was sealed in dying in the streets.” She had hungry mouths to feed, and nothing else — not even a tarp to cover their heads during the rain. After much begging, she convinced her deceased husband’s family to lend her a piece of land on which to live, but she still needed a tarp to improvise some kind of shelter. Desperate, she earned one piece of tarp by agreeing to sleep with a man and another piece as a gift from someone at a local church. So she assembled their home.

This family huddles during rain storms under scraps of leaky tarp, leading the children to get sick. But medicine costs money, and being somewhat crippled from her fistula surgery, Sifa is unable to join other women in carrying 100-pound loads to the town of Bukavu, 7.5 miles away. (This work only earns about $1-2 USD per day.)

There are not many options for earning money in Buhozi, where Sifa lives. When she begs for help, men just want sex. But she says the risk of getting HIV is too great.

One day, however, a safe and promising opportunity arose. While Sifa was begging for help, someone pointed her to the Awareness Union for Peace and Development in Buhozi–a local group started by parents with a desire to better provide for their families and children. FH recently helped them acquire and irrigate farmland. She asked to join the group and to receive a small plot to farm.

When the answer was “yes” and Sifa (center, above) learned she’d also be given a hoe, rake and seeds, the report says, “she cried out with true hope and joy for the first time since her days with her first husband back in Kabila! God is answering her prayers….”

Presently, Sifa’s plot of land is just being prepared for planting. While it’s not yet producing food, “Sifa declares that she feels as if the whole world is hers – now that she has a place to grow food for herself and her children. She will now have an avenue to pay for her children’s school fees, resting in the hope that God has many blessings in store for her!”