Sylvie Maunga Mbanga: The Woman Saved to Save

| August 8, 2012

As much as I like to listen to (and read about) inspirational stories of sacrifice and selfless giving, nothing makes me happier than when I actually get to write an inspirational story of sacrifice and selfless giving. For the last 4 years I have committed myself to writing about the stories of women who have lived up to high expectations of themselves – not others. And of all the stories I have written, the ones that touch me the most are the stories of women, like this month’s personality, who through their own life’s experiences fight against the very practices that once held them back. Our August goddess is a woman whose life was greatly affected by one of the deadliest wars in African history, and has lived to tell her story. Not just that, she is also fighting for social justice and equality in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She describes it as a quiet day towards the end of May 2005. That was the day Sylvie Maunga Mbanga’s life was changed forever. What started as a quiet day at the office soon turned into an afternoon of chaos. It began with a phone call from a friend. “The war is coming!” He yelled. He asked for Sylvie and everyone to get the office and stay put, but they were already in the office – unaware of what was happening on the outside. Minutes later, Sylvie received another call. This one was a desperate call from her close friend, Ann-Marie. This call led Sylvie towards her apartment building across town. What transpired as the minutes and hours ticked by is something no one should ever have to live through.

There were several close encounters with death throughout Sylvie’s attempt to escape to safety, from her office to her apartment to meet Ann-Marie, to Ann-Marie’s family home. Yet none of the encounters were as chilling as the one Sylvie recounts about what happened at Ann-Marie’s plush manor house in a quiet suburb of Bukavu.

Huddled in a room in the home, Sylvie and Ann-Marie listened to the approach of the militia soldiers. Upon their arrival, they rounded up the women in the surrounding compounds and ordered them to undress. Then they heard the crack of a gun, a child’s scream at the sight of losing his mother to a bullet, and, eventually, footsteps headed in their direction. They knew they were next. What happened in the minutes that followed was simply an ACT of God. Sylvie still cannot explain what made the soldier stop turning the door handle to the room in which they were desperately clinging to each other for dear life. The two of them had said their prayers; they begged God for a miracle and assured each other that “today is not our day to die,” even if their eyes said they only hoped today was not their day to die.

Two years later, Sylvie would be assigned to the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation’s (ICCO) new office in Bukavu. Her new workplace would be inside what was once Ann-Marie’s family home and her office would be that same room in which she once huddled and prayed for God to spare her life. Sylvie was beyond words when she realized where she ended up that day. However, she did not let fear and hauntings of the past hold her from taking the position as the new program coordinator for ICCO’s anti-sexual violence program.

As program coordinator of the anti-sexual violence program, Sylvie has committed her time to working with survivors of sexual assault who were not as lucky as she was. As a trained lawyer, she works to ensure social justice and equality are paramount in her community, especially for women. Sylvie’s main focus is to assist the survivors and to lobby the local legal and social systems to be better proactive in their prevention methods and in their responses to sexual abuse victims and war survivors. However, in a place like Congo, the challenges are many. 70% of the women in some parts of the country are rape victims. Many of them are afraid to name their perpetrators and some are afraid for anyone to even find out that they have been raped. The courts are not that effective either. All this can be frustrating when other challenges such as lack of resources and traditional beliefs are thrown in, but Sylvie has devoted her life to doing what it takes to make sure that things change for the better. She remains defiantly optimistic.

And things have changed since 2005. And thank God, things are continuing to change. It is Sylvie’s dream that the Congolese people would find a way to become a unified nation, one that works together towards the good of themselves and of each other. For now, it is safe to say that her work has not been, and will not be, in vain and that the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo will definitely find a way to work towards progress and stabillity for the good of all.

Click this link to read a production blog Sylvie wrote for an episode of Law & Order Special Victim’s Unit.

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AFRIKAN GODDESS MAGAZINE is a subsidiary of Afrikan Goddess Media, LLC. Our content is designed with the educated, professional, classy, charming and sassy African woman in mind. We encourage women to express their creativity and ideas through writing, and also serve as a platform for meaningful discussions and exchange of ideas.

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