Wrapping up a five-day trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UNICEF chief said that she was “horrified” by the stories of violence inflicted on the people of eastern Congo by predatory groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army, but was moved by the “sheer will and determination of the community to help.”
In her final stop, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman drew attention to Dungu, a town in northeastern Congo that’s been hit hard by attacks over the past two years by the Lord’s Resistance Army, the marauding rebel group infamous for abducting children and forcing them to fight.
UNICEF estimates that 320,000 people have been displaced by the uptick in attacks targeting civilians. During a particularly violent period in late 2008 and early 2009, which included what’s known as the Christmas massacre, over a thousand people were killed and 476 children abducted.
In a statement, Veneman recounted the experience of a boy she met during the visit:
“I met a boy who had been kidnapped by the LRA. His foot became seriously infected and he was unable to keep up with the daily long-distance treks across the countryside. The rebels taunted him and then severely beat him and left him behind. He lay stranded in the bush without food or water for five days before he was found. ”
Fortunately for this boy and others like him, foster families in the community often take in children who manage to escape. Veneman commended in particular five women she met who now care for traumatized children, despite their limited resources and large families. “This kind of community care is a true example of humanitarianism,” Veneman said.
Late last week, Veneman spent time in South Kivu province, where she met with women who have fallen victim to the sexual violence that has made the region the worst place in the world to be a woman or girl. One particularly moving interaction, which Veneman highlighted, came when she visited again with a 15-year-old girl she’d met during her last trip to Congo. In a statement, Veneman recounted:
“In 2006, I met a 12-year-old girl who was attacked and brutally raped by four men. Her story has been with me ever since. Three years on, she is wracked with physical pain, and even more, I saw heartbreaking mental anguish in her eyes. Three years ago she told me she wanted to become a nun when she grew up. Today, when I asked, she told me her aim in life is the same…. her choice speaks volumes.”
As Veneman makes her way back to the U.S. – where she will hopefully draw from her recent experiences to lead a renewed effort from UNICEF to address the devastating conditions she witnessed – she’ll be taking questions from the public about her visit. Post your question to Veneman on this forum, or send them in via Twitter to #askunicef by tomorrow, September 1. Her responses will be posted on Reuters AlertNet later this week.
Photo: A woman rests in a clinic in eastern Congo