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The Refugee Fighting Sexual Violence

Photo: Camille Nozieres/CARE

Photo: Camille Nozieres/CARE

Photo: Camille Nozieres/CARE

Earlier this year, tens of thousands of Congolese risked their lives to flee their conflict-ridden country and seek refuge in Uganda. Pema* is one of them.

At the time, fighting was raging in Ituri, her home province in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Our village was attacked during the night. After they raped me, rebels stole our herd, and kidnapped my husband and my eldest child. I haven’t heard from them since. I think about my son all the time. I miss him so much,” she says.

After experiencing rape, displacement and violence, she’s now trying to rebuild her life together with her 10 children in Uganda’s Kyangwali refugee settlement. Eager to help people with similar trauma, she became a volunteer with CARE. She educates women and girls about sexual and gender-based violence and early marriage, of which she is a survivor.

“I can help them because I experienced it myself. I don’t want it to happen to others.”

Pema became pregnant from rape at 14. Due to family pressure, she was forced to get married to her rapist and, in the years that followed, was forcibly impregnated with 10 more children. Because of her young age, her pregnancies led to life-threatening complications.

“During my last pregnancy, I almost died,” she says. “After I gave birth to my twins, I remained unconscious for two days. Doctors told me that I would not survive any following pregnancies and, thankfully, convinced my husband to sign the papers for my sterilization.”

Today, Pema meets with women and girls in the camp to inform them about their rights and existing solutions in case of rape and assault. She’s among 40 other volunteers that play a crucial role in identifying sexual and gender-based violence in their communities.

“What I’m doing with CARE is very important for me,” Pema says. “I’m very happy to do it, because nobody should suffer like I did.”

*Name has been changed

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