WASHINGTON— Sister Angelique Namaika, a nun who has dedicated her life to helping people brutalized by militants in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has announced that she will use the $100,000 prize from the U.N. refugee agency's Nansen award to help better the lives of those victims. Sister Angelique said one of her first priorities will be to use some of the money to create a semi-industrial bakery that will become an income source for victimized women.
Sister Angelique is a beloved figure in Dungu, a town in northeastern DRC that has been her home since 2003.
Here, she has launched a variety of services, many of them designed to help women and girls who have been victimized by militant groups. These services include cooking and catering classes.
Many of the women and girls she helps are refugees who were forced to flee from their homes because of violence. Sister Angelique's proposed bakery could give these women a fresh start.
"If I can help just one woman restart her life, for me that is already a success,” said Namaika.
The United Nations refugee agency estimates the Dungu area hosts more than 300,000 refugees who have been forced from their homes because of violence.
It reports that many of those victims are women and girls who suffered horrific abuses at the hand of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA has attacked dozens of villages, converted children into child soldiers and sexually assaulted women.
Among the victims is a woman who was kidnapped at age 14. She gave birth to two children while in captivity. She is identified as "Julie."
"When we were caught, the girls were immediately put behind their chief and we were given away. They did not give 'husbands' to those who were 9 or 10 years old, they let them grow older. From 11, 13, 18 years old, we were given to the men," recalled Julie.
Another woman, identified as Monique, said the militants forced her and other captives to kill.
"Someone had tried to escape and they told us to kill him. They gave us whips and told us to beat him to death. We hit him on the head until he died. Afterwards, they gathered us together and told us that if we tried to escape, they would catch us and kill us the same way we had just killed our brother," said Monique.
Sister Angelique says that the women have begun to heal since receiving counseling and training through her office in Dungu.
"When I look at them now, they are totally different from the image that I had seen when they had come out of the bush, escaping the atrocities and the displacement," said Namaika.
Over the past four years, Sister Angelique's organization, the Center for Reinsertion and Development Support, has helped about 2,000 displaced women and girls recover from their experiences and learn skills so that they can support themselves. It is a mission that Sister Angelique hopes to continue.
"I will never give up. I will do my best to give them back hope and the possibility to live again," promised Namaika.