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Courage of a Congo survivor

By Mike Thomson
Today Programme

Zawadi and daughter
Zawadi's interview inspired a spontaneous response from listeners
When I first met Zawadi Mongane in April 2007 I was both shocked by her terrible story and moved by her courage in telling it.

Yet I never imagined that the plight of a young mother in eastern Congo would have a similar effect on so many listeners to this programme.

At many points during that first interview Zawadi broke down, unable to hold back the tears, as she revealed how she had been forced to hang her own baby after watching rebel soldiers butcher dozens of people in front of her.

The victims included her brother and two oldest children.

At one point I asked if she wanted to stop but she resolutely shook her head.

"If the world doesn't know what is happening here, the killing and raping will never stop. Nobody will ever help us," she said.

To be honest, I was not sure whether her awful story would make any difference at a time when people are constantly confronted with so much suffering.
In the past I would often think about killing myself but now that I know you are there I don't feel that urge anymore
Zawadi Mongane

I have never been so glad to be wrong.

Searching for Zawadi

In May this year I had returned to eastern Congo to try and find Zawadi.

Nobody knew what had happened to her since her release from hospital.

With the help of hospital staff and the charity Christian Relief Network I finally tracked her down to a small mud-floored shack in a particularly impoverished area of Bukavu, where she lives with her sole surviving child, five-year-old Reponse.

A still traumatised Zawadi, who spent much of the interview staring vacantly at the ceiling, told me that she could not even count on retaining this flimsy and leaking roof over her head.
Zawadi Mongane

The local Catholic church had paid her rent until the end of May but a penniless Zawadi was warned they could not provide help after that.

Soon after telling me this, her sad eyes returned to the ceiling for a while before fixing on five-year-old Reponse, who was hugging her mother tightly.

"My daughter knows two things. She knows that her father was killed and she knows that they killed me too, in a way," she said.

"I tell her how difficult my life is and I show her how I have been killed too. It is very difficult to forget that picture, that moment, when I was... when I was made to kill my own baby."

Listeners respond

When this was broadcast the response from Today listeners was extraordinary.

E-mails and letters offering help, some of the latter packed full of cash, flooded in.

Even parcels arrived with presents for Zawadi and Reponse.

One woman, who had heard my follow-up interview on the Today website, wrote out a cheque for £10,000 to the charity Medecins Sans Frontiers, who help the thousands of victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo.

Another listener donated £2,000 to assist people in Zawadi's position.

But even more than the size of some donations, what amazed me most was the sheer number of people who gave whatever they could afford.
Donations from listeners have paid for Reponse's school fees

As a result of such generosity Zawadi's rent has now been paid for three years and she has been able to set up a small shop which she hopes will enable her to pay her own way in the future.

Donations from Today listeners have also paid her daughter's school fees for the next three years.

When I met Reponse she told me how she dreamed of becoming a doctor one day so that she could help people like her mother get well.

Now, Zawadi says, she is dreaming of becoming a doctor even more.

Zawadi, too, is dreaming. She hopes that her daughter will eventually be able to escape the violence and despair around her and lead a new life.

"Even if I should die…I'm sure that Reponse will have a good future….now that she's going to go to school," she says.

Zawadi also had some words for all those who have helped her so much.

"I thank you for everything you have done for me and for helping me have a future. In the past I would often think about killing myself but now that I know you are there I don't feel that urge anymore."

Mike Thomson has won the 2008 Bayeux Calvados Award for War Correspondents, in the radio category, for his report In Search of Zawadi.

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In search of Zawadi
Thursday, 10 April 2008, 12:36 GMT |  Africa

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