“There are times,” she says, “when I feel truly devastated. But then, when I find a baby without a mother in the middle of a pile of corpses, I can save that child. Who knows what the future will bring? I am devoted to these babies.” She sighs. “I must help them survive,” she adds. “They stabilise me.” A life of hope lived in defiance of violence: Rebecca Masika Katsuva
FIONA LLOYD-DAVIES 30 September 2016
I came across a truly inspiring woman, one who had undergone incalculable traumas that I don’t think I could have recovered from. Her name is Mama Masika, and lived in the East Congo. She married Bosco Katsuva and had two children. When they were nine and 13, their home was attacked and looted. They killed Bosco and forcably raped Masika and her daughters, both of whom were impregnated by the attack. Disowned by her husband’s family, she and her daughters made their way to South Kiva with only a plastic bag holding their possessions.
She was in the hospital for six months recovering but when she came out, she opened her home to other victims of rape and their children. The Congo has been called the “Rape Capital of the World” with 14 rapes occurring every hour. Women, children, men and babies are fodder to militia groups. It is a means of control to the point where rape has become systematized and rape camps exist with roll calls. Masika herself had been raped a total of five times, the last four as a means to try to still her activism and the noise she made regarding the consequences of rape in her land.
Masika traveled to villages to rescue women and their children who had been raped. Babies found whose mothers had been killed were also rescued. She would carry wounded women on her back to her center or hospital. She provided constant love and care in an violent, insecure environment. At less than five feat tall, she had an immense personality and spirit. She was an attractive, vibrant woman who wouldn’t give up against great odds.
Starting with a rented field until she could own one, she and the other women grew crops to eat and sell at market. She developed 50 homes where women could give birth, raise children and tell their stories. Additionally she obtained sewing machines for another means to a livelihood for these women. She would travel for days on foot to reach a village she heard had been attacked to rescue survivors.
She personally adopted 18 children and helped 6,000 women find a new life after trauma, tragedy and loss. The organization she developed, APDUD, is a haven for many. She won the Ginetta Sagan Award and $10,000 for her work. Her center is called “the listening house” for the many stories told there.
Masika died on February 2, 1966 from malaria and high blood pressure. She fell sick suddenly, was brought to the hospital and died shortly after from a heart attack. She was 49.