By Bharati Naik and Atika Shubert,*
A Congolese nun working in the Democratic Republic of Congo is making a difference.
Sister Angelique Namaika has been recognized for her extraordinary humanitarian work with victims of atrocities committed by members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the militant group led by African warlord Joseph Kony.
The LRA took up arms against the Ugandan gvernment in the 1980s and soon became notorious for killing, kidnapping and brutalizing people throughout central Africa. Its members are known for hacking off the lips and ears of their victims, looting villages and burning huts, and stealing clothes and medicine from the communities they terrorize. Those who survived attacks have been deeply scarred.
Namaika, who has received the Nansen Refugee Award United Nations award for her work in the DRC, has helped rebuild the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls caught in the LRA’s web. She has dedicated the award to all the women and children who were abducted by the LRA.
Namaika said she was inspired to follow the path of social work as a child when she saw a German nun, Sister Tone, who used to visit her village to help the less fortunate.
“I thought it was worth giving more efforts for the women that had suffered at the hands of the LRA for two to three years,” she told CNN. “It was very difficult because I had to bring some sort of cure, to relieve them of what they had been through. One of the main goals of providing these trainings was for the women to feel valued within society and be autonomous.”
Pope Francis offers blessing
The number of people trying to recover from the LRA’s reign of terror is staggering. The group has displaced 2.5 million people in the DRC, Uganda, South Sudan and the Central African Republic over the last 30 years, according to the U.N., making it the world’s largest and longest-running displacement predicament. Countless families have been destroyed or split apart in this time.
Namaika told CNN: “Some women did not directly witness the atrocities performed by the LRA, but they saw them through their children whom they counted on. This one woman had three of her children taken from her, two boys and a girl, one of the boys was killed in the jungle, the other had both his arms amputated, and the girl had a sexually transmitted disease. And this woman carries this pain in her heart.”
Namaika recently met with Pope Francis and sought blessing for the victims of the LRA. Just before the meeting she said: “I am going to ask him for a special blessing for us and for me, for me to continue to have the courage I need to fulfil my mission to help women to find their lives again.”‘
Working in the north-eastern Congolese town of Dungu, Namaika said she has worked with women who were captured by LRA rebels when they were as young as 11 or 12.
“For me, the impact on the country is what they have done in the hearts of thousands of Congolese children. He kidnapped children, who represent the future of the country. It is as if they destroyed the future of the country.”
“They still spread fear throughout the local villages, and no matter what anyone thinks, even if someone feels safe, Kony could come out with his group very unexpectedly. People are still very afraid of going through what they went through.”
After years hiding in the jungle, the number of LRA fighters is thought to be down to a handful, and the U.N. report says there’s been a drop in the frequency of attacks against civilians. It is good news, but as Namaika knows, the healing will go on for years to come.