Survivors of sexual violence in the Congo have hope for the future thanks to a scholarship program in the East Congo Episcopal Area.
Through Congo Women Arise, a collaboration between the California-Pacific, East Congo, Memphis and Tennessee conferences, and a partnership with nonprofit Harper Hill Global, The United Methodist Church has been empowering girls and young women who have been raped, abandoned by their families and stigmatized by their communities.
“The United Methodist Church helped me change my story,” said Bibiche Ohanga, 24, who received a scholarship to attend university. “Today, I have another identity. My life has changed.”
Ohanga is enrolled at the Higher Institute of Nursing Sciences in Kindu.
“Today, I become the most important person for my family. My studies have made me famous. … I say thank you to The United Methodist Church, my church, that gives me this added value,” she said.
Another scholarship recipient, 16-year-old Tumaini Baroani, was raped two years ago and shunned by her family.
Her sister brought her to the Mama Lynn Center, a United Methodist sanctuary for sexual violence survivors in Kindu. The center, built through the Congo Women Arise collaboration, opened in March of 2018 and provides transitional housing and medical and spiritual care.
“I came to the center very ill with infections due to the rapes,” Baroani said, adding that she dropped out of primary school for two years after the attack.
“I am committed to continuing with the training at the Mama Lynn Center. Today, I know how to sew, make cakes, prepare soaps and make bread. … I live a new life through the scholarship I received from The United Methodist Church.
“My birth religion, which is Islam, did not take into account my condition, but The United Methodist Church does. I’m proud of the name that the church baptized me, Tumaini, which means hope, unlike my original name, Matchozi, which simply means tears. I really feel like I’m a girl of hope. … I say thank you to God for this love management to me, a Muslim girl.”
Seraphine Mangaza, 22, the youngest of eight children and the only daughter, was assaulted by a teacher.
“My older brothers brought me from the village to continue my high school studies in Kindu. Unfortunately, I was abused by my teacher,” she said. “When the act occurred, I was taken to the hospital and my brothers filed a complaint against this teacher who fled.”
She said after the attack, her family abandoned her. The assistant director of Congo’s National Intelligence Agency, who handled her case, took her in.
Mangaza said she heard on the radio that The United Methodist Church awarded scholarships to elementary and high school students. With the help of her new family, she visited East Congo Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, who put her in touch with the Rev. Randy Cooper of the Memphis Conference and The Rev. Neelley Hicks of the Tennessee Conference.
Hicks is founder of Harper Hill Global and co-coordinator of the Congo Women Arise initiative, while Cooper is the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Martin, Tennessee, which has a partnership with the East Congo Episcopal Area.
“We heard her story, spent time with her and her little baby, and then reported to our mission team who had traveled to Kindu from the Memphis and Tennessee annual conferences,” Cooper said. “As a team of eight, we committed to provide and underwrite Seraphine’s educational expenses for three years.”
He said the group is committed to helping her further her education. “We are glad and grateful that we can help Seraphine.”
The young woman also is grateful for the support.
“Being able to continue my studies at university was the second miracle in my life,” Mangaza said. “I decided to (pursue studies) to defend the cause of the oppressed and the innocent. I wish to be a defender of those who are abandoned.”
She said she is proud of the encouragement she has received from The United Methodist Church.
“The church received me without knowing my faith. I pray that God blesses the leader of this church and his partners … I promise to serve God in this church and continue to defend other abandoned victims.”
Unda thanked all of the church’s partners for helping to grant scholarships to children at all stages of their education, especially those who have been assaulted and abandoned. He said the vision of the East Congo Episcopal Area is to rise up and build.
“We must stand with all people,” he said. “We can’t stigmatize anyone.”
Osongo Yanga is the director of communications for the East Congo Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.