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Date [ 2015-06-24, 06:35 ]

Despite the hopelessness of it all, some women learn to survive.

Louise recalls her troubled past.(Cr)Oxfam)

(Kuala Lumpur =Koreanpress) Liew Lai Keen = Millions of people around the world face disaster every day. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), families have lived through decades of conflict. Today, attacks, abductions and sexual violence remain constant threats in some regions. But now, with Oxfam's support, women are joining forces to stand up to violence.

One such person is Sylvie Mapendo. Recalling her childhood in the Katoyi region of DRC, she described a place very different to the Buporo camp she now calls home. "There were many streams and rolling hills," Sylvie says. "It was a happy life. I used to dance, use skipping ropes and play games with our neighbours."

That life now seems very distant. After rebels chased Sylvie out of her village two years ago, she fled with nothing. She now brings up her four children alone in a cramped bamboo hut with plastic sheeting for a roof. Her husband fell ill in the camp and died late last year. "From the first time I saw him I fell in love with him," she said sadly.

Camps like Buporo are tough places to live. Disease can spread fast. Clean water is often hard to come by. And the threat of sexual violence is very real - Sylvie admits that being attacked is one of her greatest worries.

And yet, among the fear and struggle, hope is also growing. As well as building water tanks, showers, taps and other essentials, Oxfam is helping communities to form support groups and tackle the threats they face together by building links with local authorities.

Sylvie is one of hundreds of women who have joined one of the women's groups. "I'm now a mediator," she says, "and I'm proud when relationships are restored so people can live and share with their neighbours."

Like Sylvie, Louise also fled fighting in Katoyi. Before arriving at the Buporo camp, she spent time living in desperate conditions on a mountainside. While she was there, three of her children and her husband fell ill and died within a single week.

Today, as a member of the same women's group as Sylvie, she has a fierce determination to help women understand their rights and challenge the culture of violence. Sylvie and Louise support women to share their concerns, speak up in public forums and find solutions that bring about real change - on issues from staying safe while collecting firewood to visiting relatives who have been arrested without reason. "The group has identified three areas to focus on: people being arbitrarily arrested, sexual violence and early marriage," Louise divulged.

“Volunteer 'agents of change' then spread the word about our groups' work to people in neighbouring villages.” She further went on to say, “Before the women's forum, the authorities would not feedback easily. Now we have visibility. Even the authorities and the police respect us. Now things are open."

All this is a result of Oxfam's Strength to Survive Appeal. The programme uses donations to fund community phones that can contact Oxfam if they are in danger, start a woman's protection group so that these women can tackle security and safety threats together or support an entire community to protect women and girls from harm and sexual abuse. 

 Strength to survive: donate now

The protection groups give people in DRC a voice. As Protection Programme Manager Adel Sasvari revealed, that can make a permanent difference. "When people meet and collaborate to solve problems, they have immense power to work together over the long term," she disclosed. "We do a food distribution once and it is eaten, these community changes last."

This brings to mind that old saying – ‘Giving a man to eat a fish will last just a day, but teach him to fish and he can eat everyday.’


Sylie lost her husband in the conflict.(Cr)Oxfam

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