BY Ryan McDougall | April 17 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Faith and forgiveness in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Reporter Ryan McDougall explains why we shouldn't forgot about SCIAF's Wee Box appeal in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In January this year, I embarked on my first ever SCIAF press trip.

My colleagues past and present had always spoken highly of such trips, having shared with me their personal stories from the various countries they had visited with the charity.

Despite building up a fair bit of knowledge based on what my peers had told me, I really didn’t know what to expect.

While I’m sure most of our readers will be well-aware of SCIAF, every year the charity hosts its Wee Box Big Change Lenten appeal, with a different focus pictured on the wee boxes each year.

This year’s appeal focussed on the Democratic Republic of Congo and the many thousands of women affected by rape and sexual violence there.

‘Rape capital’

In 2010, the DRC was dubbed the ‘rape capital of the world’ by the United Nations, particularly in the eastern region of the African nation.

Myself and other reporters from various news outlets travelled with SCIAF officials to tell the harrowing stories of women whose lives have been affected by such acts, and how Scottish donations are helping them to rebuild their lives.

During our time there, reporters including myself must have interviewed upwards of 30 women who had been deeply affected by rape and sexual assault, generally at the hands of rebel militias, though some women had been attacked by men they knew.

Their stories, all different yet equally as harrowing, were often connected by two common themes: forgiveness and hope.


What struck me was, when asked about their assailants, not one single woman wished ill upon them.
Their respective faiths, which were generally Christian, prevented them from holding any such grudge against those who had hurt them so badly.

They also spoke positively of their present and their futures, each one of them citing SCIAF and its local partners as essential in helping them get back on their feet.

Every single women was full of gratitude that here, in Scotland, almost 4.5 thousand miles away, there are people who care about their plight and who want to help.

When interviewing the women about what had happened to them, a certain guilt would often come over me.


Although they had been made aware of what they would be discussing, and were happy to have their voices heard, I couldn’t help but feel terrible for essentially asking them to relive their trauma while telling their stories.

I’ll never forget the look on many of their faces as they spoke of their plight. Thousand-yard, dissociated stares, accompanied either by painful cries or sometimes no emotion at all.

I’m obviously no mental-health expert, but I put my cards on the table in saying the majority of the women had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental illnesses that stem from trauma.

Another thing that will stick with me forever is the dedicated work of SCIAF and its partners.

Heroes of the DRC

During the trip, we visited a hospital where fistula surgery is performed. A fistula is a serious and excruciating genital wound, generally caused by violent rape.

I was horrified by what the women at the hospital told us, but I was inspired by the doctors who worked tirelessly, day after day, to ensure that their medical and psychological needs were seen to.

The doctors see their job as a vocation, as often they aren’t paid much or at all when money is not available, yet they don’t care as they are fulfilled by doing what they do best: saving and changing lives.

The clergy are incredible people too. They are more than just priests. They are human rights activists, teachers, leaders, all rolled into exceptionally charismatic and strong-minded men.


They are more than happy to stand up to injustice from the government, speak out against the rebel militias, and they do all this knowing that it makes them a target.

The current leader of Bukavu Archdiocese, Archbishop François-Xavier Maroy Rusengo, has seen several of his predecessors assassinated for standing up for the oppressed, and told me he is not afraid of a similar fate.

The Archbishop of Bukavu even joked that he wants me to fly back out to his country and join his seminary as I’m still young—which was a lovely compliment, though I told him perhaps my partner would be a wee bit upset!

These people are incredible but can only continue to help change lives with our support.

Support SCIAF

that is why I’m asking you, as someone who has witnessed the amazing things SCIAF is doing, not to forget about your Wee Box this year, despite the nationwide shutdown due to the coronavirus.

Keep up your support for the charity’s appeal in the DRC this year, and donate the odd coin or note to your Wee Box, which will be doubled by UK Aid Match funding.

Scottish Catholics can help rebuild the lives of thousands of women in the DRC. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to be a part of it.

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