Yvette was raised in a close-knit family that educated her and provided for her, but that changed when she was brutally raped when she was still a child. Rape is heavily stigmatized in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and survivors are often shunned by their families. Following her assault, her once-close family distanced themselves from her, discontinued her education, and made her feel isolated—especially when she discovered that she was pregnant.
“After the sexual violence, I didn’t feel like the same person. I thought I would die. I felt like I didn’t know how to describe what I was feeling. I didn’t even understand myself.”
Unfortunately, Yvette lost her child after carrying her to full-term.
“My little girl did not have the chance to live…I was sick. I was abandoned by my family and my community. I felt like I couldn’t live anymore, I felt extraordinary pain. I became very sad and suicidal. I found some connections who led me to the Panzi Hospital. …They welcomed me.”
When Yvette arrived at Panzi, she received medical treatment and attended therapy over the course of a month. She participated in dance therapy, karate, and sports like soccer, and has said that the experience “renewed her mental strength.” She felt her life was starting to get better — and she no longer had suicidal thoughts.
“The therapy sessions, the dance therapy, the sports and the soccer games…..All of these things helped me become stronger and more stable mentally.I began to find that my life got better.”
After overcoming her psychological trauma, Yvette yearned to gain her independence as well and continue the studies that had been interrupted by her assault. As part of Panzi’s socio-economic pillar, she attended a job skills training program focused on lapidary, or cutting and polishing semi-precious stones. This is where she discovered her passion for jewelry-making—and her passion for helping other survivors.
“I was very intelligent and concentrated (in the training program). I discovered that actually in the Congo there are a lot of mines. There are also a lot of natural resources. There are so many resources that can be exploited in my country, but there are not many lapidaries. I wanted to organize more training for women to become specialists in jewelry-making.”
While the training can be difficult or overwhelming because it is so new, the trainees are incredibly motivated to complete it and learn as much as possible.
“It is very interesting, and that’s why the trainees stick with it. It’s hard but because it’s interesting it becomes easy. I am so proud of myself when I consider where I have come from. I find that I have a big importance in my society. I can create something that hasn’t been in the Congo before.”
Now Yvette devotes her life to helping other survivors to realize their dreams—and she credits Dr. Mukwege and Panzi for giving them the support they needed to rebuild their lives.
“Our doctor has helped us so much. He has made our lives mean something. We are so proud and thankful for him.”