In the midst of the dusty and scruffy regional capital of Goma, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some colored houses shelter a community of girls survivors of sexual aggression. These teenage girls aged 14 to 19, learn from each other how to be the mother of a child they did not want while trying to rebuild themselves and overcome their traumas.
In the North Kivu province which has grappled with wars, civil strife, and multiple rebellions since 1996, rape of war, forced or premarital relationships are common. Almost a quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 have already given birth. Once pregnant, these teenagers are often rejected by their community and families.
In Goma, the provincial capital, several institutions bring support to the most serious cases: girls from extremely poor families, willing to engage legal actions against their aggressors, or those who need medical and psychological support. The Maison Marguerite, run by the Catholic order Don Bosco, boards every year two dozen girls. It provides them with a house, a basic scholar program, and a professional apprenticeship to become autonomous. At the Heal Africa hospital, sexually assaulted women can enroll in a program to learn sewing and handcrafting.
These activities allow the teenage mothers to reconstruct, to socialize within a new community and to prepare for an autonomous life as a woman in the Congolese society.
* To preserve their anonymity the names of the girls have been modified in my captions