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UN honours DRC's 'humanitarian heroine' nun

UNHCR awards Sister Angelique prestigious refugee prize for work with thousands of displaced victims of horrific crimes.

Last Modified: 18 Sep 2013 09:14
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Dungu sits in the Orientale province, between the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Uganda [Al Jazeera]

A nun working with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in a remote corner of the DR Congo has been awarded the world’s most prestigious refugee prize, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has said.

The UNHCR awarded Sister Angelique Namaika the Nansen Refugee prize on Tuesday for working to improve the lives of more than 2,000 displaced women and children who face horrific crimes, including rape, forced labour and abduction at the hands of the LRA, over the past 10 years.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, described Sister Angelique's efforts to rehabilitate traumatised and injured women and children in the region as “tireless” and “remarkable”.

"These women's lives have been shattered by brutal violence and displacement," Gutterres said in a written statement. 

"Sister Angelique has proven that even one person can make a huge difference in the lives of families torn apart by war.

"She is a true humanitarian heroine."

"We hear stories of kidnapping from time to time ... Back then all we used to hear was bullets. 

Sister Angelique Namaika, nun and Nansen Refugee prize winner.

Having recognised a need for women to be reintegrated into society after suffering mutilation, rape and abduction at the hands of the LRA, Sister Angelique created an organisation called Mama Bongisa, meaning mother will improve things, in 2003.

Her project focused on the rehabilitation for women in Dungu, north-eastern DR Congo, through literacy and empowerment.

She felt that creating a community for women to learn practical skills would assist in alleviating their traumatic experiences and help them become more independent and self-sufficient.

Mama Bongisa became the Centre for Reintegration and Development some years later to make it easier for men to participate in their activities, without the added stigma of associating with an organisation perceived as a haven for mostly women and children, especially orphans.

The centre produces a selection of crops, including millet and bananas, and uses the income from produce sold to buy resources to train women to bake, sew and learn how to read.

Along with the 150 women she works with, the organisation runs a catering service in the town for visitors and events, to assit with skills and cash flow.

Sister Angelique said that the displacement caused by the LRA, who have been fighting the Ugandan government for three decades, had left a society demoralised.

Although the fighting has reduced substantially, the LRA is still active in the region, Sister Angelique said. "We hear stories of kidnapping from time to time.

"Back then all we used to hear was bullets," she told Al Jazeera.

Millions displaced

The Orientale province, sitting between the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Uganda, plays host to an estimated 320,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and is considered the most affected province in the DR Congo.

In the town of Dungu itself, more than 25,000 of the town’s 73,000 residents are displaced in one form or another by the fighting in neighbouring towns and villages; many of whom have suffered recurring and multiple displacements.

Sister Angelique was herself displaced by the violence in 2009 while living in Dungu, which furthered her interest in helping others who have suffered a similar fate.

Over the past 30 years, the LRA has displaced an estimated 2.5 million people in one of the world's largest and longest running displacement crises.

Sister Angelique lives in a two-roomed bricked house with a thatched roof, with no running water or electricity, with 13 other people, including orphans she adopted.

Though the award recognises her contribution to her community, she says she hopes it will simply help her carry out her tasks.

"The award is for the women, and I hope it will help us with the basic tasks of helping them get an education and earn a living," Sister Angelique told Al Jazeera from Dungu.

“People just want to company, to take part in an activity and be part of something … this helps fight the trauma.” 

Pope meeting planned

The prize coincides with the release of a new report that explores the legacy of LRA brutalities in the eastern DR Congo, co-authored by the UNHCR and Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).

The report says one of the key problems facing the Orientale province is a case of protracted displacement. 

An estimated 55 per cent of current IDPs have been displaced for the past five years, and there is little incentive for people to return home.

"The history of LRA violence in Orientale province has created far higher levels of fear and psychosocial trauma than in other areas," the report concludes.

The Nansen award, created in 1954 by the UNHCR, honours those who have made significant efforts to help the displaced, including refugees. The award brings $100,000 prize that goes towards a project with the recipient, administered by the UNHCR. 

This award essentially recognises the work done by someone who herself, might not have much, but is making such an impact on the lives of others,” said Celine Schmitt, the UNHCR's external relations officer.

“She is just one person helping more than 2,000 women change and rebuild their lives after such traumatic experiences,” Schmitt told Al Jazeera.

Sister Angelique will formerly receive the award on September 30 and will then visit Pope Francis in the Vatican.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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