Rape victim ‘most amazing woman’

PUBLISHED: 13:28 28 February 2012 | UPDATED: 13:58 28 February 2012

Picture by Julie Edwards/CARE International

Picture by Julie Edwards/CARE International

© Julie Edwards Photography 2012

Honitonian Deborah Underdown comes face-to-face with true inspiration in the poorest place on Earth.

No peace after Africa’s world war

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been left in the grip of a humanitarian crisis following a five-year civil war, fuelled by a greedy rush to plunder the country’s vast mineral wealth.

Termed ‘Africa’s world war’, the conflict pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda.

A peace deal was brokered in 2003 but, in the east of the vast country, people still live in fear of a marauding militia and the army.

Three million lives are estimated to have been lost during the war, as a result of fighting, disease and malnutrition.

But the agony goes on for many millions more, who are struggling to survive.

You can support CARE International’s work in DR Congo by visiting www.careinternational.org.uk

A Honiton woman has described a rape victim as “the most amazing person I have ever met”.

Charity worker Deborah Underdown, 29, says the woman’s life has been transformed by “inspirational projects” which plucked her from destitution and gave her a future.

Speaking to the Midweek Herald after visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Deborah, who works for CARE International, said: “She is very brave. She has rebuilt her life, with everyone knowing what happened to her.”

Deborah went to the Congo to record the stories of those helped by the charity.

Mother-of-six and rape victim Florence was among those she met.

“She is the most amazing person I have ever met,” said Deborah.

“Her husband was killed during the civil war and she sold fruit and vegetables at a market to survive.

“One day, when she was on her way to the market, she was raped.

“Her way of earning a living became very frightening for her.

“She went through a dreadful time and became destitute, living on the streets.”

CARE International provided Florence with training and materials to set up her own business and now she is one of the Congo’s only female barbers.

Her younger children attend school.

“She is so warm when she greets you,” said Deborah. “She says our project saved her life.

“She still has health problems 10 years after the attack. It’s quite horrible.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the poorest places in the world.

It was ranked bottom in the United Nations’ Human Development Report.

“Life expectancy and education in the Congo is very poor,” said Deborah. “The average life expectancy is just 57. That’s really shocking.

“It is very vividly a poor place. Roads are non-existent, which makes journeys interesting.

“For most people there, life is a daily grind; it’s just a case of trying to survive.”

Deborah says children in the Congo “want to go to school”.

“Education is absolutely something people desperately want,” she said. “They really value it.”

During her visit, Deborah also met two couples who have been helped into work.

The men were both former soldiers, who returned from the civil war without jobs and were unable to support their families.

With the help of CARE International, they have received training and resources to set up their own businesses. One runs a tyre repair shop and the charity has negotiated a tax break with officials that will allow the businesses to establish themselves.

Reflecting on her visit to the Congo, Deborah said: “It was shocking how people were living, but it is a very, very poor place.”

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