Glimpses of life for Congo's displaced people
World Vision Magazine, Winter 2007
By Kari Costanza
Photographs by Jon Warren
Nehena Tumaini’s names mean “grace” and “hope.” But life in Congo has left this 18-year-old woman with little of either.
Her father was killed in 1997, shot dead as the family fled fighting. Her mother died of illness.
“When I went the first time, they said, ‘For now — no.’ They said, ‘Come back after three months.’” When Nehena went back to the clinic, they tested her again. She remembers their words: “You still don’t have HIV, but you are pregnant.”
Camp dwellers eat mostly bananas and live in banana leaf huts.
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision
|Then, two years ago — a different kind of tragedy. Soldiers burst into her uncle’s house where Nehena was staying. “They raped me,” she says. “There were four soldiers. They had guns and uniforms.” According to some estimates, as many as 100,000 women have been raped in eastern Congo in the course of war.|
“People had me check to see if I had HIV,” says Nehena.
Now Nehena has fled the conflict again. She lives with her aunt in Mugunga, in a camp of banana-leaf huts built on lava from Congo’s vicious volcanos. Her life is uncertain, as is life for her baby, John, who tries to suck at her breast.
“I always think of my mom and dad,” she says. “If they were alive, it would be easier.”
“Today, we have no plans to eat,” says Jeanne Zaire, 33. She brings out a tin pot — one of her few possessions — to show her food supply: four small bananas.
Jeanne Zaire carries 15-month-old Abdou, a child she struggles to feed.
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision
|Jeanne is one of 300 people living in Mugunga, a camp for displaced people near Goma in eastern Congo. A recent widow, Jeanne cares for five children on her own. With a baby at her breast and another clinging to her knee, she describes how she ended up here. |
“After a week of fighting, we decided to leave, because the fighting was approaching closer,” she says. “We fled at night, walking. I carried three children. It was hard, but they did not have any choice. The children prayed to God that they wouldn’t die along the way.”
They survived the walk — but once they arrived at the camp, two of the children died of starvation. The others still do not have enough to eat. Pointing to her children, Jeanne says, “You can see they have lost weight.”
The family squeezes into a hut Jeanne built of banana leaves, but it fails them. “Rain is a challenge,” she says. “The water comes into the hut.
“The children ask why they can’t go back home,” she says. “The problem is how. How will they walk? Where will they go? They don’t even have a father.”
about the neglected crisis in the Congo.
Two Ways You Can Help
Ask God to comfort and protect the children uprooted by continued fighting, suffering from preventable diseases such as malaria, or mourning the loss of family members. Lift up World Vision staff ministering to these children and their families in the name of Christ.
>> Sponsor a HopeChild in the Congo. World Vision in the Congo is participating in our HopeChild program to provide additional resources for children and families impacted by HIV and AIDS in this high-prevalence region.
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