Just after concluding the “No Stigma” workshop in Kindu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, I met with Georgette, Rosalie, and Bibiche– all survivors of sexual violence – to ask their thoughts about the animated video “A Plea to My Father.” They had each just shared their stories in front of the workshop, and given permission to share their stories, images and names publicly. Courage.
Each story was unique, yet similar, in the horrors shared and the heartbreak that followed. Rosalie still doesn’t know if her then-15-year old daughter who was brutalized with her is even alive. When she went back and begged for information about her, the attackers pulled three of her front teeth for asking questions. Rosalie’s family and community then shunned her for having been raped. Living in isolation over these last 16 years, she was encouraged by the development of the Mama Lynn Center in Kindu which is focused on helping women like her, and so she came to the workshop. Her courage in coming forward before the group of about 50 women was cloaked with downcast eyes – a characteristic that many of the survivors shared.
Although I only met Rosalie last week, it was this kind of story that motivated the creation of “A Plea to My Father.” Last November, I talked with Judith Yanga who is the director of communications for the East Congo Episcopal Area about communication resources that could assist with combating stigma. After having shared Firdaus Kharas’ work with her, we decided to create something together that would illustrate the layered suffering caused by stigma and spark discussion. Judith worked closely with us – supplying photographs so that scenes would be contextually appropriate, overseeing the script for local feedback, and offering small group viewings prior to its release. It was only right that the premier of “A Plea to My Father” occur at the “No Rape, No Stigma” workshop in front of the women who it’s intended to benefit.
One viewer said that the animation provides “sensitization, mediation and consolation” – which are all needed to address problems created by stigma. Other viewers began to think of the community’s answer to the boy’s request in the video, and began drafting a multi-faceted plan for the church’s response. Asked if there was anything they would change in the animated video, Georgette, Bibiche and Rosalie all said no. Rosalie said, “This is our story. This is what we experienced.”
Sometimes the beginning of healing comes when one’s own story is finally heard and validated, with blame assigned correctly to the perpetrator and not the survivor. The animation did this for them, in front of a group of their peers. As I was traveling the next day, I saw Georgette on the road, called her name and waved. Her immediate response was a bright, beautiful smile – now etched on my heart. Praying that healing comes to Georgette, Rosalie and Bibiche and all others like them and that the video prevents new Georgettes, Rosalies and Bibiches from ever facing the same experiences they did.
Special thanks to Melissa Wheatley for use of photos. Follow her on Flickr !
Also reference: Why Has the DRCongo Forgotten Sweet Mother?