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Raped and burnt in DRC: Martha's story

Martha was raped in a violent attack in DRC. She also suffered terrible burns when her hut caught fire. She doesn’t know where her husband is. She has one surviving child.

Martha, 32, was raped in a violent attack in DRC. She doesn’t know where her husband is. He was kidnapped by Congolese soldiers to help them transport their baggage and she hasn’t seen or heard from him since. She spoke to WFP programme assistant Henriette Kapinga about her life since the attack.

In July 2005, in a village of Walikale, in north Kivu, I was outside when I heard a round of bullets go off throughout the village.

Since it is a shame to admit having been raped, many women prefer to keep silent

I ran to hide in the house with my young daughter, who was one year and four months old at the time. Five soldiers came and raped me.

After the act, I hid myself with my daughter under the bed.

On fire

Unfortunately, the men had started to set fire to all the huts, which all began to burn, including mine. I carried my daughter close to me, but as I left the hut, burning hay and a part of the earthen wall fell on me.

I managed to escape, but my hair was burning. I hid myself in a nearby river with my daughter in attempts to lessen the pain.

My skin had been burned, and then my daughter died from her burns.

Profound pain

My seven-year-old son was at that time at an uncle’s house,

My skin had been burned, and then my daughter died from her burns

and is alive today.

I looked for medical help at Walikale, but with no success. It was then that priests took the initiative to transfer me to Bukavu, and then to DOCS (Doctors on Call for Service hospital) at Goma.

I don’t have family in Goma, where I am staying to have medical care.

All my family stayed in Walikale. When I see my friends, I feel a profound pain; I cry and tell them what happened to me and how it happened to me.

Sleepless nights

I often wake up around 5:30 in the morning because of pain from my burn wounds.

I had not been able to sleep at all before because of a painful burning sensation, but now I can sleep a little, especially when the weather turns cold.

I wear clothes that DOCS distributed to us, as well as clothes that the men of God have given to us.

At 9 in the morning, at DOCS, we are given corn porridge by WFP. Towards midday, we have another meal made essentially of corn dough with beans or peas.

Wounds

If enough flour remains, this midday meal is made again as an evening meal around 5pm.

As for my body, in addition to the pain of the burn wounds, I feel fire-like heat all over when the sun is out.

There is a prickling sensation on my lips. I often pour water to soothe my skin and lessen the pain. Before, I would wash myself twice a day with muganga soap that was distributed to us but now, when I feel hot, I also pour water over myself.

Sisters who advise us console me the most by telling me that what happened to me was not my fault.

Blame

If I continue thinking about these things, God will not be able to open the doors of blessing. Once these advisers are gone, though, I come back to thinking and blaming myself, especially when my wounds become particularly painful, as they sometimes do.

Here in hospital, I wait to be healed and fully recovered. I have no family; I grew up in my uncle’s house, and since the rest of the family will abandon me once I recover, I will go and say goodbye to my uncle and then I will stay with Christians or at the church which has helped me all this time.

Rape

Burning is what bothers me in particular. As for rape, I see that many women are raped; many of them are driven out from their marriages because they were raped.

Several people living along the main Walikale road, and even those living in the villages, were raped.

Since it is a shame to admit having been raped, many women prefer to keep silent.

More complicated cases like mine are sent to Goma for more intensive care, while other, “simpler” cases are taken care of locally in Walikale.

Life after recovery

After my recovery, my arms will no longer be able to do cultivating work.

If I can, I may find something and start a small business. I’m afraid, because sometimes I think that I will never fully recover because I have no one to help me. I don’t even know what to do for this business I am talking about.

I don’t know if I will be able to have the same amount of strength as before. I think one day, though, I will be able to do something.

Nightmares

Yet when I dream, I feel as if I am in a fire, and it doesn’t end until I wake up. At times I stay awake after these dreams until dawn.

There are nights when I don’t sleep at all, and then there are those with nightmares that remind me of what happened.

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