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DRC: For Rape Victims, Food Aid Key To Healing Process

Civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo has led to an outbreak of sexual violence, with over 17,500 women raped last year. By drawing women to health centres and providing nourishment for them and their children, food aid has proved to be a key part of the healing process.

GOMA – Nine months ago, Rachel, 17, was raped by a man she identified as a soldier of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda – one of a hodge-podge of armed groups that roam the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) pillaging and terrorizing the population.

Today she’s on the cusp of giving birth, at the Heal Africa centre, a Goma-based NGO that offers medical and psychological treatment to victims of sexual violence.

Emmanuel Baabo, an evaluation officer at the centre, says that the warm meals and rations provided to these women and their children is crucial to the healing process.

An old problem

“Rape is nothing new here, but the insecurity and warfare we have experienced over the past few years has made the problem much worse,” says Baabo.

He points to a recent study by the United Nations Population Fund, which estimated that over 9,000 women were raped during clashes in 2009. Some of the most horrific cases, however, took place in late July and early August, when rebels reportedly mass raped more than 240 women in Eastern Congo over a period of several days.

The Heal Africa centre treats an average of 700 victims of rape and violence per month, many in urgent need of medical attention. Baabo says that proper nourishment is not only vital to their physical recovery, but helps draw women to the centre that might otherwise not have come.

Healing the victims

“The women who come to the centre often have serious injuries, illnesses and psychological scarring,” said WFP staffer Romain Kasendula. “They must have food in order to heal.”

WFP also feeds around 720 HIV-positive children who come to the Heal Africa centre for treatment. Kasendula said that the food is especially important for them, as their bodies need nutrition in order to fight off the virus.

“The antiretrovirals these children receive are powerful medications and shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach,” he said.

Kasendula added that food boost the status of AIDS-orphans within their extended families and helps reduce the status of being HIV-positive.