Alphonsine* remembers the night of 22 May 2021, when she and her family lost everything.
"Our field, our house and our livestock had gone up in smoke”. Within hours, the village of Mugerwa was devastated by the eruption of the Nyragongo volcano in the Province of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Pregnant with her fifth child, Alphonsine only wished to keep her family safe.
After spending a few nights in neighbouring Rwanda, they returned to the DRC and immediately faced the lack of space in the sites for displaced people. "We had no choice but to stay in a collective centre," which was set up in a primary school, tells Alphonsine.
The eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano has weakened many already vulnerable families. Women and children have paid a high price, as they are committed to daily household chores, exposing themselves to assault, rape and other forms of violence. "Finding food was a real headache. My husband would go into Virunga Park to look for firewood to make embers and sell them”.
One morning, Alphonsine's husband was kidnapped, and a ransom was demanded to free him. "For love of the father of my children, I decided to go”. That day, Alphonsine was raped by the kidnappers, just after her husband was released.
"Between the physical and psychological suffering, I didn't want to live anymore. Until my path crossed with a community organisation in my neighbourhood. They were raising awareness about gender-based violence with megaphones. From afar, I heard them talking about free treatment in health centres, including in Kanyaruchinya, which is close to my home”.
Like other survivors who arrived at that health centre, Alphonsine was welcomed by a counsellor. "Thanks to the discussions I had with her, I was able to overcome my pain and to talk to my husband about what happened to me. With her support, the child in my womb and I feel healthy”. Today, Alphonsine and her family live together with a newly married couple, kindly hosting them until they find a new home. She continues to participate in weekly discussions with other women to overcome the traumatic experience.
Since June 2021, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), together with its partners Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Intégral (SOFEPADI) and Hope in Action, supported many survivors of gender-based violence in the health zones of Nyiragongo, Kirotshe and Karisimbi. With funding of the DRC Humanitarian Fund, these organisations mainly provided dignity kits, medical care and psychological support to survivors.
Throughout 2021, the DRC Humanitarian Fund funded six projects in 11 territories located in the provinces of Ituri, Maniema, North Kivu, South Kivu, and Tanganyika, to provide medical and psychosocial support to survivors of GBV and to enhance awareness raising in communities
- To respect anonymity, the names of the people involved in this testimony have been changed.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.