Elizabeth Mbatha Muli, MSc, is a psychotherapist/trainer at CVT Nairobi.
Dina was only in her teens when she was captured by militia and forced to live as a “bush wife” in the soldier’s camp in Congo. She was able to escape, and made her way to Kenya.
Dina* is 16 years old today, and I worked with her when she came to CVT Nairobi for counseling care. As she went through her journey of healing in our program, she shared her story with me.
Dina told me the trouble started when her parents were killed by militia. After this, she went to live with her grandmother. They were attacked too, and her grandmother was killed as Dina watched.
The soldiers then took Dina and other girls from the village to their camp. This marked the beginning of a painful and difficult time for Dina and the other girls, as they were raped daily and forced to do domestic chores for the soldiers. Dina was frequently beaten, denied food and, at times, sleep. The soldiers taunted them daily with loaded guns, threatening to kill them because the soldiers claimed the girls’ ethnic group spied for the government.
The camp leader singled Dina out to be his wife and locked her in his room away from the others. Sometimes he would beat her if she refused his advances and threaten to shoot her. She feared he would kill her especially when he realized she was pregnant. He was not happy about it.
So she ran away with another girl who was also pregnant. They ran for hours until it was night; they did not know where they were running to.
Dina’s friend was heavily pregnant and started bleeding. This was one of the most difficult times for Dina, as she watched her friend die in her arms. There was nothing Dina could do.
Dina told me she felt guilty being so helpless at that time. She had to leave her friend’s dead body in the open without a decent burial, so she could continue running when the sun rose. And as she ran, Dina feared she would die like her friend.
Dina could not remember how long she ran. She said sometimes she would get a place to sleep, but most people turned her way fearing she would give birth in their home. Then she got to the tarmac road and just collapsed.
A woman woke her up and took Dina to her house and fed her. This woman helped Dina get a lift from a truck going to Uganda because she feared her neighbors would attack them if they knew she was hosting someone of Dina’s ethnic group. Dina told me the truck driver took her to the buses, where he gave some money for her to travel to Nairobi, Kenya.
When she arrived in Nairobi, Dina did not know where she was and could not understand the language of the people. She had also never before seen so many cars and tall buildings – she said she thought they would fall on her!
As she was crying, people drew close to her, but Dina did not understand what they were saying. A woman took her to a “Congolese Church” where she met people from her community. She began to learn where she could get help, and she went to Heshima Kenya, where they began to support her with housing, safety and education. There, Dina learned about CVT.
I met Dina when she came to CVT for counseling. She had a little baby girl called Lucky. Dina looked sad and was tearful. She spoke with a soft voice and avoided eye contact. She reported having nightmares of soldiers chasing her or shooting her; sometimes she would remember her friend and start crying. Dina was also struggling with her child, who resulted from rape. At times Dina felt like dumping Lucky and walking away. She was ashamed to be a mother at such a young age.
Dina was also struggling with fear of men, and even at Heshima she did not want to be near the male staff. Dina was also not sleeping well, and staff reported that she often refused to eat.
As counseling started, Dina would cry a lot and many times asked me to hold the baby while she rested. The sessions went on for ten weeks, and by the end a beautiful flower had begun to blossom. Dina was laughing more and no longer isolating herself to cry. She was also learning to love her baby and mixed freely with the other girls.
I asked Dina what had helped, and she said that counseling had played a big part. She said CVT walked with her without judging her and gave her hope at time when she had lost hope.
By the time I did a 12-month follow-up, Dina was strong and happy and felt hopeful about her future. She was well dressed and wore make-up. Heshima occasionally holds fashion shows, and Dina was part of the modelling team. “I am a Heshima model, and I love it,” she told me. Her baby was doing well and she felt Lucky was a gift from God.
Today, Dina is in the U.S.A. having been resettled.
*Name and some details have been changed for safety and to protect confidentiality.
CVT’s work in Nairobi is made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture; United Methodist Women; and the S.L. Gimbel Advised Fund at The Community Foundation – Inland Southern California.