Le Petit Sanctuaire Goma Democratic Republic Congo (DRC)
The city of Goma resides directly across the Rwandan/Congo border on Lake Kivu. As reported in the Toronto Star last year there are approximately 54 militia groups throughout the DRC forming a “patchwork” National Army. Margot Wallstrom, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones, visited Goma Prison 2 years ago following the mass rape of women prisoners. Goma Prison, a former colonial era structure built for 150, currently holds over 1000 prisoners, including women, their children, and adult and juvenile males.
Most of the women are there for “financial crimes”, debts, property and land disputes, and the inability to pay fines. Like a debtors prison in 19th century Europe, even after they have served the court imposed sentence they remain incarcerated until the debt is paid.
The men of Goma Prison, for the most part, were militia or former soldiers jailed for rape and murder. In 2009 during an escape attempt, all of the 23 women were rounded up by male prisoners and mass raped. Over the course of the past 2 years the UN and NGO’s were successful in getting all of these women released from prison.
In November 2011, when we arrived in Gisenyi, we were warmly welcomed by Reverend Simeon Muhunga and his dedicated team of chaplains. Simeon, and his team, are committed to supporting the lives of victims, improving prison conditions, and helping many other vulnerable people in the DRC. Simeon lives in Goma where he leads a community chaplaincy program out of an austere, unfurnished rented house, Le Petit Sanctuaire Goma.
According to the Just Equipping 2011 Report, the chaplains are poor, often physically unwell, and in need of basics such as shoes and medicine. They have children of their own who cannot afford to attend school.
Just Equipping provides a $10 a day salary for each chaplain to support their work, including visits to Goma prison. The state does not provide food for the inmates of Goma Prison. In the DRC this is not their responsibility. Rather, families of the prisoners, missionary organizations and occasionally other NGO organizations provide food. One meal is served daily.
One of the initiatives supported by Just Equipping at Goma Prison is the Lamp Project. The Lamp Project was implemented to provide kerosene lamps for the women’s section of Goma Prison. These lamps have brought a safer environment for these women, but they have ongoing costs for kerosene.