Congolese Nun Receives High U.N Honor
9/19/2013, 4:42 p.m.
A Roman Catholic nun who rides a bicycle deep into the bush in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo to help female victims of war is to receive a top U.N. award for her courageous work.
Sister Angelique Namaika is a familiar sight, pedaling down dirt roads to visit the women and to run a center she called “Maman Bongissa” in the village of Dungu. The center trains displaced women and girls in basic income-generating skills they can use to improve their lives.
From 2003, when she arrived in Dungu to help vulnerable women, to 2008, the flood of internally displaced persons (IDP) had become overwhelming. According to human rights groups, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a militant group fighting an insurgent war for autonomy in the region, had been stealing children to become child soldiers, burning homes and raping women. “The need of IDP women was huge,” Namaika recalled. “They had lived through terrible things in the bush.”
Maman Bongissa became Dynamic Women for Peace, offering training, microcredit and health care for children. Since 2003, Namaika’s organization has provided support to about 2,000 people, most of them displaced women and girls.
To support her work, she said: “I also have an oven at home. I bake breads every day, which I sell; the money from the bread helped me to organize other activities for the women.”
The 46-year-old Namaika will receive the Nansen Refugee Award and the Nansen Medal, named for Norwegian scientist and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, at a ceremony in Geneva on Sept. 30. Malian musicians Amadou and Mariam will perform.
“If I manage to help only one woman to rediscover life,” Namaika told the U.N. committee, “I will consider I have succeeded.”