Stories From Women
Democratic Republic of Congo
Honoring Honorata – A Journey from Rape Survivor to Advocate
Honorata Kizende’s past is marked by incredible hardship, horrific violence, social isolation, and near death destruction. And yet, it is also an account of survival, strength, and testimony to human strength.
At the 2008 Women for Women International awards gala in New York almost 800 guests celebrated Honorata, a Congolese rape survivor and graduate of the organization’s program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She received this year’s Woman of the World Award for her courage and advocacy on behalf of women survivors of war.
“All of us are humbled while we stand in front of you. You have taught us all and you have taught me about courage and resilience. And if Honorata can stand up after going through what she has gone through, who are we not to?” said Zainab Salbi, Founder of Women for Women International, after handing the award to Honorata.
Honorata had been a sex slave and kept in captivity by armed militias in eastern Congo for almost a year. She was repeatedly gang-raped in public. After she escaped, the stigma of rape made her family reject her. Alone and destitute she found refuge in a friend’s house and was raped again when armed men looted the property. This time her daughter had to watch.
Today Honorata Kizende runs a small tie-die business with a group of women who pooled their resources. And she has decided to break the silence. Honorata is advocating for an end to sexual violence and calls on members of her community to restore the rights of women who have gone through rape and stigmatization.
Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein presented Honorata with a scholarship for a six week entrepreneurship course at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
"We know that when you invest in women, we transform not only the person, but also families, communities and, ultimately, countries. It is that multiplier effect that we believe is fundamental to long term, sustained economic growth," Blankfein told the audience before handing the scholarship to Honorata Kizende.
The gift is part of the investment bank’s 10,000 Women initiative (www.10000women.org) that was created to enhance core business knowledge and provide the women in poor and emerging markets with the tools they need to grow their businesses and positively change their local communities. Women for Women International awarded the Citizen of the World award to the investment bank for this program.
Dressed in a traditional outfit made from fabric from her own business, Honorata thanked the audience, her sponsor, and Goldman Sachs for their support.
“I am very happy that Women for Women International has connected me with Goldman Sachs’ initiative that cares so much about the improvement of the lives of women,” says Honorata. “After the training I am planning to improve my business and organize my life in a better way. Hopefully, I will be able to identify new opportunities and can use my knowledge to train other women in the Women for Women International program.”
Honorata’s personal highlight of the evening was the surprise reunion with a woman she had once looked after when she was a teacher at a girl’s school. Faida Mitifu, recalled how Honorata Kizende helped her to adjust to boarding school and became a pillar of support before their ways parted more than three decades ago.
It is a tale of two women, whose lives could not have turned out to be more different. Faida Mitifu went to the US to study and get a PHD. Today she is the Congolese ambassador to the United States. Honorata stayed in eastern Congo and became a victim of war, violence, and rape.
“Honorata has been a victim of the tragedy that has been unfolding in the DRC for more than 10 years. And yet Honorata today can see the future. It is a great pleasure to see my big sister, my mentor, whom I have not seen for more than 30 years,” Faida Mitifu said before the two women embraced each other.
“She Touched My Heart” – A Sponsor Meets Her Sister, Honorata
“When I am walking the roads in my country and I am all by myself, I know there is a woman out there, who cares for me,” says Honorata Kizende, a Congolese survivor of horrific sexual slavery and violence. She was talking about her American sponsor, Mariama Hadiah, a women she had never met and only knew from exchanging heartening letters across continents.
Mariama is Honorata’s sponsor and has paid for her Women for Women training that enabled her to become an advocate against violence and a business woman. The proceeds from Honorata’s small tie-die shop that she runs with a group of rape survivors and program graduates has put all of her children through school.
Their first meeting took place at the 2008 Women for Women International New York gala, where Honorata received the ‘Woman of the World Award’ for her courage and advocacy on behalf of women survivors of war. Their encounter was emotional for both. Honorata embraced Mariama, calling her ‘my sister’ and during her acceptance speech told almost 800 people in the audience that she owes her livelihood to her.
“It was humbling. She touched my heart. And I felt very fortunate when she gave this beautiful speech,” remembers Mariama. “Honorata gave me a lot of hope. I thought if she can go through so much, I certainly can hang in there as well.”
Mariama, a former middle school teacher from California, has health problems and currently lives of a small disability allowance. A devout Buddhist the 59year old has committed herself to working toward world peace. Sponsoring Honorata through Women for Women International is a means to this end. “If we help mothers, we help children, and, ultimately, we can rebuild whole societies,” says Mariama. “I don’t have a lot, but I want to help.”
Despite her own situation, Mariama worries about the larger impacts of the current financial crisis. “It is going to be hard for people to see the purpose of giving. But I believe that we are not going to be happy if we have millions of people in the world who continue to suffer.”
Honorata has dedicated her life to breaking the silence. She speaks on behalf of tens of thousands who have been raped in her home country and is asking everybody she encounters to use their political and financial influence to help bringing an end to the violence in her country. For Mariama Honorata’s story is uplifting and a proof of the power of human strength.
“She is a teacher. She is showing us all how strong each of us can be.”
It was in 2002 that the world turned up side down and Honorata lost the signs of a "true and nice life" that she and her husband had built. She was captured and tortured by the armed militias. She was gang raped, sexually abused, forced to endure unimaginable humilities. Honorata's days blended into one another until the moment another marauding band stormed the camp. In the confusion, she escaped.
With nowhere to go, no food, nothing but the torn cloth she wore, Honorata walked. And walked. And walked. Through the blistering heat and through rain storms, she walked over 150 miles to Bukavu, a village that had become a haven for people fleeing the war. There she found her five children who had survived by the kindness of strangers. Reunited, she began to rebuild their life.
But just as she tried, the war came to her doorstep again. And, again she was raped, beaten and sexually abused. Families that had helped her feared she was cursed. She was left, again, crushed but determined to recover and rebuild.
Honorata joined Women for Women International in August 2004. Her story of survival was featured on the Oprah Show and in the O Magazine February 05 issue article, Post-cards from the Edge.
Relating the horrors of what she experienced was the first step to her healing. Until joining Women for Women International, Honorata had never shared her story and silently endured the trauma. "It is one thing to have been through what I have been through. To have no one acknowledge it enhances that pain threefold," she said. "Your willingness to recognize my humanity has given voice to my distress and meaning to my pain."
In a culture that marginalizes rape victims, Honorata felt isolated from the society that failed to protect her. She felt fragmented socially, economically, and psychologically. But once she realized she was in a safe place, both physically and emotionally, she began to rekindle her dreams.
The program "has dared me to hope-of having a house, of living in peace, of reclaiming my dynamism, my dignity. If not director of a school, I would like to be someone of importance, someone of value again," she said optimistically soon after she started.
Honorata joined a small group of women who also suffered in war. Each had their own stories of horror, of lives lost, and of struggling to regain their dignity. Together they shared their lives, their hopes and dreams. They sat side by side to discuss the role of women in rebuilding society, women's rights and the new Constitution, and family law. They learned about reproductive health issues, such as their anatomy, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and child birth.
In small groups, the women learned basic business and marketing skills. They enrolled in special job skills classes designed to meet the market needs of their community. They talked about the economic value of housework, and the importance of education and literacy in gaining economic independence.
Honorata chose tie-dyeing for her vocational skills training. Using her money from her Sponsor, she is creating a small business. Life is still hard but she is trying to earn a living and provide for her family's basic needs. She is determined to find ways to increase her income to enable her to save so one day she can have her own home again.
From the beginning, Honorata actively participated in the training sessions, particularly the classes on women's roles and the importance of becoming an active citizen. In the session about women and the Constitution, she vowed to play her role in rebuilding the country. After attending a community meeting on violence against women, Honorata noted "I come to these meetings on violence against women. It is always a so-called expert talking about us rape survivors. I have never seen that they give the floor to us to talk about ourselves. We have a voice and we can articulate what has happened to us and how that has impacted our lives."
Determined to share her first-hand experience and not to be silent, Honorata gave a speech on March 8, International Women's Day, about the suffering of women in eastern Congo. She boldly called for accountabilities at all levels. In the audience was the Governor of the Province and other political figures and community leaders. On behalf of other rape survivors, she called on the humanitarian community and national authorities to take heed of what has happened to women in Congo and what continues to happen.
"I did not believe that I could still hold a speech in front of a crowd. But I have done just that," she said proudly afterwards.
Her participation in Women for Women International has not only helped her to regain her sense of self, but it has given her the hope that she was looking for. "I feel like I am someone important," she said recently. "The recognition that I have been given today has made me realize that I am a valuable member in my community."
Lucienne M’Maroyi is a 24-year-old woman who has been separated from her husband since she was raped. She is in the Bwirhonzi group of Walungu, the mother of three daughters, the third of whom resulted from her rapes as a sex slave. She named her baby Luck because the people with whom she was taken in the bush were killed, but she was lucky not to have been killed along with them.
“My husband was on a trip to Bukavu when some Interahamwe broke into the house where I was staying with my sister-in-law at around 9 pm. It was in December 2006. They came with flashlights. I had my baby in my arms. They pulled it away from me and threw it aside. I was alone in the house. They left the kids behind, and they stayed with a neighbor. It was a blessing that they did not rape my daughters—they were so young and small, it would have been the worst tragedy for me. They pulled me and tied my arms behind my back with a rope together with my sister-in-law. They dragged us out and brought us to the home of another family where they collected other people. They also took my brother with us. Soon there were five of us. On the way they shot one elderly woman because she could not walk fast enough.
”When we got to the bush, they pulled me down to rape me in front of my brother. They gave him the flashlight to hold. As he hid his face in shame, they struck him with a gun and pulled him away to kill him.
“When they were about to kill me, one of them said I resembled his sister and that I would become his wife instead. They killed another woman. We were beaten many times. As we were swollen because of the walk and having been beaten, one of the men warmed water and gave it to us so we could massage ourselves. They sent a woman to us with food. Fortunately, to my surprise, it was my sister whom we mourned and thought had died. She had been taken at the time they killed my father. She told me she was ill and that nobody would allow her to get treatment. She was also pregnant.
“My sister-in-law was killed during a dispute between two men who wanted to have her as a wife. They decided to solve the problem by killing her.
“Another woman was impregnated. She tried to abort the baby, but she bled too much and died due to lack of access to medical treatment. I remained alone with my sister. I was also pregnant with this baby, Luck, whom I delivered in October 2007. I spent three months and a half with these people as a sex slave.
“I escaped when my elder sister was in labor and was being sent to the maternity clinic. They asked me to take her there, but took my clothes off so that I would not run away. I wore only pants. On the way, we met a government soldier whose wife gave me clothes to put on. They also made porridge for us. Unfortunately my sister died during her delivery. I kept the baby until its father came and took it to Bukavu.
“When my husband heard I was back, he said he would not remain with the Interahamwe’s wife. He stopped me from coming to his farms. I had to live at my father’s old friend’s place, where I sleep with my children on the floor in their sitting room.
“Joining the program has been a salvation. My children were suffering from malnutrition, but since I began receiving training and learned about the three types of food that need to be part of good nutrition, my life has changed and my children are healthy. I used my sponsorship funds to pay for medical treatments for them. They are not school-aged yet. I recovered confidence through the [Women for Women International] training.”
Once a participant in the Women for Women International program, Alice is now a literacy trainer with the DRC chapter. Born in Burundi, Alice was a long-time victim of tribal discrimination and, later, domestic violence at the hand of her husband. She was forced to flee with her sick baby boy to South Kivu in the DRC after a particularly violent beating by her husband. As refugees, Alice and her son were given no assistance and her son eventually died. She started as a participant with WfWI-DRC in March 2008 and excelled in her classes. Now, she teaches other women about domestic violence and was recently hired by WfWI-DRC as a literacy trainer. She now makes enough money to sustain herself and her daughter.
When you meet Alice Kiza Nahayo, you’ll find her full of glowing optimism. As a successful, joyful, and confident literacy trainer for Women for Women International-DRC, it’s hard to imagine the tragedies she has endured throughout her life. Yet Alice has had a long journey – she actually started out in the Women for Women International family as a participant. The depth of her personal triumph is apparent when she tells her story of survival from an orphan and victim of gender-based violence and rebirth as a loving mother and teacher.
Born in Burundi in 1968, Alice was orphaned in early childhood and raised under the harsh realities of a racist headmistress in an orphanage torn by Hutu and Tutsi tribal tensions. Brutal tribal conflicts govern the region where Alice, a Tutsi minority, grew up, and eventually lead to the horrifying Rwandan genocide of 1994. Alice experienced harsh discrimination in the orphanage that she is unable to describe to this day. She married as a young woman, eager to leave the hardships of her childhood behind, and became optimistic that she would finally feel at home in a place where she belonged. Alice was happy with her four children and felt that her life would be forever changed.
But after the birth of her fourth child, Alice’s husband began to beat and insult her daily. Her husband’s family mistreated her as well. One day, Alice’s husband beat her so badly that her right arm was broken; he set fire to her high school diploma, her prized possession and a symbol of her past achievements. With nowhere to turn, Alice escaped to Uvira, a city the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She fled with her youngest son, who was quite ill at the time and for whose safety she was also very concerned.
Although she was now safe from the violence and discrimination of her husband and his family, Alice had few options for survival upon arrival in Uvira. As refugees, she and her son were given no assistance. As a woman and a Tutsi, options for employment were difficult to come by for Alice. They were without food, shelter, and her son’s poor health condition was worsening by the day. Eventually he died and Alice buried him in their new home. She was devastated. She felt that there was nothing left for her. That’s when Women for Women International-DRC (WfWI-DRC) found Alice.
Alice began as a participant in the WfWI-DRC program in March 2008, receiving direct financial aid, rights awareness and vocational skills training and psychosocial support from other participants, trainers, and her sponsor. At first, Alice was shy, sickly, and incapable of sharing her experiences with the group. Over time, the warm and familial atmosphere shared by the women participants in the Women for Women program drew Alice out of her shell and allowed her to become more confident and more willing to speak about and overcome her past tragedies. Her favorite subject was that of women’s rights, which sparked her interests and allowed her to regain her self-esteem.
Alice’s new-found confidence gave her the courage to share her knowledge and empower other participants in the WfWI-DRC program. She began to teach the other women about the realities of domestic violence, herself a survivor of life-threatening beatings by her husband. She excelled in her vocational skills training in culinary arts. The program staff considered her to be one of the most dynamic members of her group, a fact confirmed when she was invited to train fellow women in the program. She is now a literacy trainer for other women in the WfWI-DRC program.
“I am very happy to have been socially integrated in the community of my refuge,” Alice said of her experience with Women for Women in Uvira. “I am able to earn an income to sustain myself and my daughter.” The women she trains with are oft heard to say that they hope to become like Alice one day. She has come such a long way from tribal discrimination in the orphanage, violence and humiliation at her husband’s hand, and extreme poverty and social exclusion as a refugee; her inner strength to overcome these many hardships is an inspiration. That she is now helping and inspiring other women to rebuild their lives is the ultimate testament to her strength and success.
Julienne is a successful soap-maker in Bukavu and works as a vocational skills trainer for Women for Women International-DRC. She is an internally displaced person, originally from Walungu territory, forced to move when violence from roving militias threatened her safety and that of her family. She joined the WfWI-DRC program as a participant in 2006 and since then has built a successful soap-making business that allows her to save $50 each month after covering her family’s expenses. She was recently hired by WfWI-DRC to train other program participants in soap-making. Everyone says that Julienne appears to have grown younger in the past three years.
Julienne is a 53-year-old mother of seven. She and her husband live in Bukavu with their two daughters and five sons. Since 2006, Julienne has worked within the Women for Women program to rebuild her life after being displaced due to violence in her home territory of Walungu. Today she works for Women for Women International-DRC (WfWI-DRC) as a vocational skills trainer in soap-making. Hers is a story of success and overcoming great obstacles to become the self-sufficient provider for her family she is today.
Julienne and her family are originally from a farming village in Walungu territory located south of Bukavu. Walungu and the surrounding South Kivu have been hit especially hard by violence, especially sexual violence against women, brought on by armed militias roving Eastern DRC. As violence and insecurity persisted, Julienne and her husband fled Walungu and moved to Bukavu. Unable to find work, her husband was forced to continue farming in his home village and travel between Walungu and Bukavu for his safety. This placed an enormous burden on Julienne. Times were hard and money was scarce. Julienne lived in fear for her husband’s life. She operated a small business selling onions, palm oil and peanuts at the Mulungulungu, Panzi market with a capital of only $5. She was able to maintain at least one meal per day, but the strain was great as she attempted to put all her children through school.
In February 2006, Julienne enrolled in the Women for Women International-DRC (WfWI-DRC) program where she received training in small business development. She learned the value of working as a team with her sisters in the WfWI-DRC program, who devised a scheme to invest $5 of their sponsorship funds in each other’s businesses, providing a lump-sum of $80 to each woman on rotation. This investment allowed her to build her small business and meet other household needs. She invested some of the money in a Culinary Arts training program, for which she received a Program Attendance Certificate with distinction as one of the best students in her class. She used the training to teach her daughter the culinary skills she learned, adding value to her home and investing in her daughter’s future.
After her first year with Women for Women, Julienne made the decision to abandon her small business to pursue a more economically-feasible option. Having received vocational skills training in soap-making to diversify her income generation, she reached out to a friend who helped her to find customers for her soap-making business. Eventually, Julienne secured the patronage of the Saint Etienne School which she now supplies twice a month with her soaps. She’s making $10 per sale which is enough to feed her family and send her kids to school.
Last year, a position opened up as a Soap-Making Trainer with WfWI-DRC. An experienced soap-maker who understood the value of working as a group with other Congolese women, Julienne was motivated to apply for the position and was hired by Women for Women in July 2008. Proud of her achievement, Julienne said, “I am gaining my life without a lot of difficulties; I have a salary which comes every month.”
Every month Julienne is able to put $50 into savings after covering all of her family’s needs. This has helped her purchase equipment to expand and improve her business. She is well-respected by her family and community. Julienne’s health has improved too – her self-confidence shines through her physical self. Her face appears to have grown younger in the past three years!
Viviane is a skills trainer for WfWI-DRC. She has been making soap since 2003, and a soap trainer for WfWI since 2005. In that time she has trained over 1,000 women many of whom have gone on to become teachers themselves or open successful businesses producing soap. Once forced to discontinue her education after working hard to get to university, Viviane has become a great success and single-handedly supports her six children, all of whom are in school, while continuing as a trainer and running her own soap-making business.
Viviane Mahongole Barhumvanya works with Women for Women International-DRC training women to make soap. Since 2005, Viviane has trained over 1,000 of WfWI-DRC’s participants to become skilled soap makers. Some of the women Viviane has trained have gone on to become trainers themselves. Many others have been hired by production companies or opened small businesses of their own producing and selling soap.
Viviane is a good teacher. She’s dedicated to the position as evidenced by her four-year long commitment to training WfWI-DRC participants. In addition to her training, Viviane is herself a skilled soap maker and runs a soap-making business out of her home, supplying soap to 50-some business groups.
Viviane pursued her education at a young age. She graduated from elementary school in Kivu and secondary school in Bukavu. She went on to university at the Rural Development College, but her financial situation unfortunately prevented her from finishing. Instead, Viviane pursued soap making to earn a stable income. Becoming a teacher has been a rewarding experience. A single mother of six children, she encourages her children and wants to provide them with the best education. Her oldest daughter is in her first year of university, and her second recently graduated from high school. Her younger children, three sons and one daughter, are all still in high school. Education for all her children, especially her daughters, is one of Viviane’s most important goals in life.
Over the years, Viviane’s dedication to her students and work as a trainer has earned her the utmost respect of her superiors, and she is rewarded with greater responsibility. “…[O]ur department leaders…involve me in the analysis and designing of training modules. My unit gives me additional tasks related to the management of the solidarity small cash box recently created in our department.” She’s proud of all that she has accomplished, and all that her students are accomplishing each day. This year, Viviane and twenty other women from WfWI-DRC were accepted into a business and management training program sponsored by Goldman Sachs and taught by instructors from the University of Dar es Salaam. Once forced to leave school when it became too expensive, Viviane is thrilled now that she will be able to continue her education as part of this program. She is proud of her achievements, and is just one more example of the positive, multiplied change that occurs when women are empowered to become business-women and teachers.
Nabintu's life was completely changed by the war and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Married to a husband she loved and raising their three children, Nabintu was happy with her life, despite the conflict going on in their country. One night, while her husband was away, a group of men who were part of the Interahamwe broke into her house, and two of the men raped Nabintu. They kidnapped her and five other women from her village, leaving her children behind alone. For days, the women were forced to walk, not knowing where they were headed. One woman who complained that she was tired was shot and killed by the men.
After arriving in a strange village, Nabintu was traded away to another man for 12 charges of bullets and a box of beer. For three months, the man held Nabintu as a prisoner and used her for sex anytime he wanted. Upon hearing that other people in his village wanted to kill Nabintu, however, he helped her escape to Bukavu. Once free, Nabintu tried to return to her husband, but he said he could no longer live with her because she was considered the wife of the Interahamwe and was carrying her captor's child.
Nabintu went to live with her mother and her three other children, but food was scarce, and Nabintu was forced to carry heavy loads while pregnant, earning less than a dollar a day. A few years after the birth of her fourth child, Nabintu heard about an organization that helps socially-excluded women like herself, and decided to join Women for Women International's year-long program. Learning vocational and business skills allowed her to start her own small business making popular local drinks; with the help of her sponsor, she saved $15 each month to reinvest in her business. Most importantly, Nabintu learned to value herself and to consider herself a person equal to others. The encouragement she received from Women for Women International's staff and the women in her group helped her overcome her past abuse and look toward her future.