Church seeks partnership for rape survivors' center

Dr. Marie Claire Manafundu, head of the Mama Lynn Center and wife of East Congo Area Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, examines clothing at the Panzi Foundation in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, where victims of rape are able to learn a trade such as sewing to help support themselves. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UMNS.
Dr. Marie Claire Manafundu, head of the Mama Lynn Center and wife of East Congo Area Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda, examines clothing at the Panzi Foundation in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, where victims of rape are able to learn a trade such as sewing to help support themselves. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UMNS.

As construction continues on the Mama Lynn Center, a sanctuary for Congolese rape survivors in Kindu, United Methodists here are seeking a local partnership to help strengthen its mission.

Earlier this month, Dr. Marie Claire Manafundu, head of the Mama Lynn Center, visited Bukavu to discuss a partnership with the Panzi Foundation, an internationally renowned organization that promotes women’s rights, supports rape survivors and their dependents, and fights against sexual violence.

“This foundation can help the church because it already has experience in this field and as we aim at the end of the construction of our center … we can benefit from training in partnership with the foundation,” said Manafundu, who is the wife of East Congo Area Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda.

Eastern Congo has been called the “rape capital of the world.” The Mama Lynn Center, which is being built in partnership with the California-Pacific, Memphis and Tennessee conferences, will give Congolese rape survivors the hope of living a better life and overcoming the stigma that makes them outcasts of society.

Judith Osongo Yanga, director of communications for the East Congo Conference, said the Mama Lynn Center is expected to be complete within the next few months. 

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Manafundu visited the Panzi Foundation to witness its work and meet with Martin Obiero, the foundation’s administrative and financial director.

She said the foundation can help the center in “the medical and surgical care of victims of sexual violence, training in various trades, legal and judicial assistance to victims” and with psychosocial and mental health care.

Obiero said he is “proud and ready” to form a partnership with The United Methodist Church, noting that the projects implemented by the Panzi Foundation are based on four pillars: medical, psychosocial, socio-economic reintegration and legal and judicial support.

Manafundu said she is delighted by the meeting and is praying for the materialization of this partnership.

Apart from the construction of the center, annual conferences also have been working to sensitize the community about sexual violence and break down the stigma associated with rape. The church is getting its message across through SMS texting and a short video that  has been shown in churches and to local female leaders and victims through television broadcasts on National Congolese Television — RTNC.

Harper Hill Global and Chocolate Moose Media  worked together to produce the animated film, “A Plea to My Father,” which is the story of a young boy who pleads with his father not to abandon his mother and sister because they were raped by militants. The video is available in nine languages.

“In our environment, it is only necessary that (people) know that you have been violated and everyone will start to make fun of you and you even lose credibility,” said Brigitte Kavira, a resident in Goma. “With the message we sometimes receive from the bishop and the animation that passes to the RTNC, it gives us hope to live, especially raped women.”

Kituka Lolonga is a communicator in the Kivu Conference. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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