Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
38-year-old Joel used to be a primary school teacher. He comes across well-spoken and thoughtful. You can imagine him being good with his students. Just as he is good now with the women and men he’s been offering vital advice to every day.
He is one of about 24,000 people who have been forced to flee their homes due to continued violence in North Kivu province (eastern DRC), and has been seeking refuge in the Lac Vert internally displaced people camp, on the outskirts of the province’s main city – Goma.
Joel is also one of the 30 volunteer educators who have been trained by CARE International and its partners. His role? To provide solace and advice to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence on how and where to access medical care. He works with both women and men, and gives practical advice on how to take measures to prevent incidences of sexual and gender-based violence. And he works with men so that they are engaged in the fight against attitudes and traditions, which render women and girls vulnerable, exposed to violence.
His advice ranges from “Don’t walk alone to collect firewood, but in a group” to “Don’t blame your wife if something bad has happened to her. It’s not her fault. You have to support her, and seek medical health. You know, your health can also be at risk.”
Any day you will find him walking from tent to tent, or attending gatherings where he can spread the good word. “Look at my sandals,” he says pointing to his well-trodden blue slippers. “I walk so much that I will soon have to do something about them. They are falling apart.”
So how many people does he see? “Many,” he says, showing neat lines in his notebook. “Any week I see women who have been raped, who have suffered from genital complications, men who have been traumatised and needed to speak to someone. It can be as many as 30 people a week.” But Joel is not disheartened by these numbers. “My motto is: don’t die, survive. More bad things will happen if we don’t do anything, if we shut up. I want to live the day when there will be maybe just one or two cases of rape per month,” he says.
His hopes are also shared by Zawadi, a woman in her 30s with a kind face. She is one of the nine volunteer psycho-social agents in the camp, also trained by CARE.
She picks up work where Joel leaves it. Once the women know there are services in place for them, and that they should feel no shame seeking them out, they arrive at the “house for mothers”. The house might be just a big, half-empty tent but it is a safe heaven for women. Zawadi makes sure they feel at ease, and gets a good sense of their needs. She offers them emotional support and referral to a nearby health clinic for medical treatment.
She’s been working as an agent since January, this year. “I am not receiving anything for doing this, but will continue to do it. This work is like a gift,” she says.
Do she think she is making a difference? “Not a difference,” she concludes. “A big difference.”
On World Humanitarian Day, CARE celebrates the spirit of people such as Joel and Zawadi, and many other volunteers or incentive workers working across the world helping CARE to support tens of millions of people who have been affected by war, disaster or the crises that flow from poverty, inequality and under-development.
Note: CARE International helps women and girls who survived sexual and gender-based violence recover medically and economically, so they can once again be a part of their community and overcome stigma and rejection.