Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Talking about trauma

October 6, 2010

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Talking about trauma

The people of eastern DRC have suffered through decades of brutal and traumatic armed conflict. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by fighting. Many have been stripped of their homes, possessions and livelihoods, while others have been killed, wounded or raped.

Since mid-2009, psychosocial counselling has been part of the range of health services offered by MSF in the neighbouring towns of Kitchanga and Mweso, in DRC’s North Kivu province. Counsellors recruited from the local population, often victims of the conflict themselves, meet with a steady stream of people wanting to talk about the trauma they have endured. More than 1000 people started counselling during the first half year of the program.

Many of the people who come for counselling are women who have suffered physical or sexual violence. A woman from Kitchanga, 54, recounts what happened to her before she came to see MSF.

“I was out with a group looking for food, when we heard gunshots coming from all sides. We ran, and dispersed into the woods. I was with two young people and they were killed right there in front of me.

“I fell to the ground, and when they caught me, they raped me.

“When they had finished, one of them made to shoot me, but the others stopped him, and cut me with knives instead.

“When armed groups started coming to our village, we would spend the night in the bush.

“If you had nothing to give to the bandits, you’d be killed. Every day people would talk about someone they knew being beaten or stabbed to death.

“The bandits said that the forest belonged to them, not us. They told us that the night belonged to them, too. So we gathered all our possessions and came here to the camp.

“Since then, I’ve been living here in the camp. My heart is always beating too fast. I’m terrified whenever I go to collect food – how could they do this to me?

“I spend sleepless nights and then I’m tired in the mornings. I think about many things. I think about the people I’ve lost and those who are still around. I think about my children who have died. I think about my child, who is still missing, and I don’t know whether he’s alive or dead.”

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