A new hope for women who survive violence in Congo
My name is Viviane Maroy Bora, I am a psychosocial counsellor for the IRC in the Democratic Republic of Congo and I work with women and girls who have experienced violence, helping them on the road to recovery.
You may have read about the Democratic Republic of Congo in the news. My country has beautiful things and difficult things, joy and pain, life and war. There has been war for 20 years now, and we, the women and girls of Congo, have born much of the violence that has occurred. But we are also the ones cultivating the land, the ones building our families and futures, and the ones striving to bring about lasting change.
I work with women and girls who have experienced violence in my community, to ensure that they come forward to get help – to talk about the terrible intimate violations they have experienced, and to receive the care, respect, and support that they deserve as they come to terms with what has happened to them. I am called a psychosocial counsellor, and I provide counselling and help to these women and girls in need. I also train and mentor women in communities to be able to provide this same kind of care to their mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends.
For years, day in and day out, I worked side by side with these women, giving them emotional support, although some continued to struggle. We realised that these women needed something more than our standard services alone to help them on the road to recovery. To meet these critical needs, we decided to pilot a new type of therapy to complement ongoing care, one that could work in the DRC, a country where political instability and limited economic resources pose great challenges.
When we tested out this new therapy I was amazed by the results. We were able to train women with very basic education levels on how to be counsellors and provide this new therapy called CPT, or Cognitive Processing Therapy. The women and girls who received the CPT therapy had severe trauma symptoms, so bad that they couldn’t even function or take care of themselves on a day to day basis but after receiving the therapy they showed major improvements.
In the words of a survivor of rape whom the IRC was able to support, “I no longer feel ashamed, I feel at ease. Before, I felt ashamed when I passed by others. I felt that they were judging me because of this act of rape that I suffered. But today I can walk around without shame and without fear of being judged.”
As a counsellor, and as a woman, the ability to help women who showed serious signs of trauma left me feeling truly empowered. I found I was able to support them to better organise their thoughts, and through this I also learned to organise my own thoughts and became more able to cope with everything I have been hearing and experiencing over the years. Women who survive violence are often wracked with guilt, and suffer the blame of entire communities and societies. I learned how to better engage these women in discussions about guilt and its resulting emotions, and about how to overcome these feelings. I witnessed women rediscovering their confidence, challenging the silence that often surrounds violence, and recovering the ability to go on with their daily lives, sometimes after months if not more without being able to do so. I saw young women and girls have the self-confidence to return to school. Today, I feel more confident that I can help all survivors; I can provide emotional support to all, and for those who need more specialised support, I now have something concrete I can offer them so that they are empowered to regain control of their lives and to heal and recover for a brighter future.
* The photos that accompany this blog show women whom the IRC has supported through its women's protection and empowerment programmes. Photos taken by Daniela Greco and Sinziana Demian/The IRC