ACT performance reveals horrors of life for Congolese women

Friday, April 23, 2010

A moving presentation on life for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo has brought home to Norwegians the realities of conflict in Central Africa.

Before a packed audience in the cathedral of Norway’s capital, ACT member Norwegian Church Aid presented ”Women Carry Half of Heaven”, taken from a popular Congolese saying.

The audience was taken through a multimedia show of photos and films, readings and interviews, Congolese dance and song, and a unique musical mix of european church organ and african marimba.

The stories were tough messages for an old cathedral. The audience learned how soldiers use rape as a weapon and also violate and injure women with sticks and guns. Victims are subsequently excluded from their villages and isolated.

Some women get pregnant and become HIV positive as a result of rape. The Democratic Repubic of Congo is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. From four stages in the cathedral, harsh information was given in straightforward, and sometimes shocking, language.

The evening was not, however, lacking in optimism. Through ACT programmes, raped women receive the chance to have surgery and return home. ACT Alliance members run a broad variety of projects in the east of the country supporting women.

Norway’s former minister of development, now NCA International Director, Anne Kristin Sydnes, told churchgoers that the days of handouts to poor people was yesterday’s humanitarian solution.

ACT gives female journalists education and assists them in building up their journalistic networks. An ACT theatre in Goma presents drama about child soldiers, played by ex-soldiers themselves. The theatre also produces pieces on how women are treated. As well as a form of psychosocial treatment, this type of drama acts as an ice breaker for women to talk about difficult issues. The theatre was started by Norwegian actor and instructor Johannes Joner, who produced the spectacular show in the Oslo cathedral.

On huge screens on white lime-plastered walls, the audience was presented with photos from DR Congo, many taken by award-winning ACT photographer Paul Jeffrey. The images illustrated the contrast of the DR Congo as “the heart of darkness” but also as a colourful society with strong women, beauty and a willingness by people to forgive and move toward reconciliation.

In the cathedral, the spirit of eastern Congo came alive with singing and dancing from a Congolese choir based in Norway.

ACT earlier this month issued a US$2.2 million appeal that includes the programmes mentioned in the Oslo cathedral presentation.