By Karrie Zych
Many of us know that the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to some of the highest global rape statistics. We know that these numbers roughly amount to 48 rapes per hour, and we know that this is why rape has been deemed a weapon of war. We know that these women are raped in front of their children, siblings, husbands or parents and suffer trauma beyond our darkest nightmares. What is less known is that these women's hope, dignity and future can be restored.
In her documentary “Field of Hope” featured on Al Jazeera's Witness, Fiona Lloyd-Davies tells the story of Masika and her tireless efforts to improve the lives of fellow rape survivors. Masika herself was raped alongside her two teenage daughters by militia, after the latter killed her husband, a wealthy shopkeeper. Her sad story does not end there, as Masika and her daughters were ostracized by their neighbours and family, and were forced to relocate to another village. Upon arrival to their new home, Masika began to take in fellow survivors and was inspired to restore their dignity in a unique way. She rented a field, which she pays for with local donations, brewing local beer and carrying others' produce to the market.
Since she began this initiative, Masika has helped hundreds of women, by providing them with economic and psychological support. Her work has grown into a network of volunteers, who bring in survivors, many of whom are pregnant as a result of rape. While these women come from a variety of backgrounds, their sad stories are all very similar-- militias looted their villages, never leaving before raping the women, thereby robbing their victims of their youth and future. It is Masika, often lovingly referred to as Mama, who restores their will to live by teaching these women to work the fields; here, on this land, the survivors find food, shelter, economic independence, and status. “You'll feel their suffering,” Masika explains in the 25 minute film. “But your task is to try to restore her to her old self. That's how I've managed to look beyond my own pain to help them.”
Masika's trauma still haunts her, and since taking on this initiative she has been raped yet another 3 times. She herself has contemplated suicide, but has rediscovered her own will to live by helping other women. Her work is never-ending, and she has no one to turn to for support. Her efforts are not in vain, though, as her impact continues to grow. Each time fighting increases among the militias, so does the amount of rapes, and subsequently the amount of women who come to Masika's fields to grow from their trauma. Together, these women work the fields, singing songs as they sow and praying before planting beans and maize, in hopes of a good harvest.
Nothing can be done to undo the terrors these women have faced in their pasts. However, the group members support one another, working forward from their violent crises. These women are strong and determined to rebuild their lives and have newfound hope for their futures-- truly rape survivors.
Since the time of filming in 2011, a private sponsor has provided Masika with a substantial donation. Through this generosity and her own hard work, she has purchased a field and is able to send all the children from her field to school, further increasing the impact of her initiative. Her story, of compassion and strength in more detail, can be found here: