Angel by name, angel by nature. That’s how thousands of women and girls deeply disturbed by atrocities carried out by a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) see Sister Angelique Namaika – a Congolese nun who is this year’s recipient of a United Nations refugee agency award for services to the forcibly displaced.
Some 320,000 people have fled their homes in DRC’s northeastern province of Orientale since 2008 to escape rebel violence. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has attacked and looted villages; killed, maimed, and kidnapped residents; and abducted children to serve as porters, sex slaves, and soldiers, said a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
Namaika, who was awarded the UNHCR’s annual Nansen Prize that honors those who work with refugees, has helped to transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who were forced from their homes and abused by the LRA since arriving in Dungu, a village in the Orientale province, in 2003.
Having been displaced by the LRA herself, Namaika knows what it is like to flee one’s home, and she thinks the best remedy is empowerment.
“We have to help women to become independent, to support themselves and their families without being obliged to depend on their husbands. That way they learn their true value,” the 46-year-old Roman Catholic nun told Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from Dungu.
In the Center for Reintegration and Development, where Angelique works, she individually counsels women and girls who have been traumatized, teaches them the national language, Lingala, and shows them how to sow and bake.
One of Namaika’s saddest but also happiest memories of the last decade involves a mute young girl who had been forced to flee her home because villagers – superstitious of her muteness – believed her family had brought death to the community.
“When I see children without parents it touches me, because I grew up in a loving home with my family all around me. So despite the poor conditions I do my best to help. I am not discouraged, even if resources are low,” she said.
“I took the girl in and taught her how to bake pastry, and now she has blossomed in her work. I also helped her reconcile her differences with her mother and her community and they get on very well today.”
Where Namaika works, there is no electricity, no running water, and no paved roads. But she is inspired by the Bible and by a German nun who came to visit her chapel to help the sick when she was nine years old.
“There was so much work to do, the nun did not have time to eat or rest. I told myself I will do everything I can to become like her and to help her, so that she may rest,” said Namaika, who thinks that if she hadn’t become a nun, she would have married and never left the home.
Namaika says she finds her strength in God and in the training she has received from international nongovernmental organizations on protecting women and children.
“Combined with the words of the Lord, this training gave me a lot of courage and allowed me to do what I do now,” she said. “It is difficult to imagine how much the women and girls abused by the LRA have suffered. They will bear the scars of this violence for their whole lives,” said Namaika.
She believes the award will help her reach more displaced people in Dungu who need support to restart their lives.
“I will never stop doing all I can to give them hope and the chance to live again,” she said.
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