what do we do?

context

The Children of Panzi and Elsewhere (CPE) is a non-profit organization which aim is to help children who are victims of trauma in armed conflicts – more specifically, children who have been raped or born of rape. The non-profit was created in September 2015, to respond to a new and urgent need for psychotherapeutic care for very young children who are victims of severe violence in villages in South Kivu. 

At the request of Dr. Denis Mukwege and given the extreme urgency of the situation in the DRC, a first project was launched in collaboration with the Panzi Hospital, founded by Dr. Mukwege himself. CPE then embarked on a pilot project, which aims to design and put into practice a methodology adapted to very young child victims, as well as care and evaluation tools. The therapeutic protocol takes place over a period of three years and takes into account different target groups. The children are aged 0 to 12 years.

The methodology developed by CPE can now be transposed to other communities and places in the world where young children suffer from severe trauma. Through a holistic approach, EPA aims to help these children grow up within their community and become actors of peace. Because the children of today are the adults of tomorrow.

our goals

Four key points are highlighted in our program:

There are two types of identities:

    • Legal identity → It is important to know that children born out of rape are usually not recognised by their state. The first step towards a change is to undertake legal procedures to recognise the child and register him/her in the National Registry. Once this has been done, the child “exists” according to the state, but also for his/her community and for his/her rights. He/she can be enrolled in school. From there, we can start working on his/her development of its social, individual and psychological identity.
    • Personal identity → These young children born out of rape or victims of rape are often stigmatised, pointed at and even excluded from their own family and communities. This has a significant impact on their self-esteem and their sense of belonging. Through different therapeutic activities we work on improving the idea that the child has of him/herself.

It is common for a child who has been a victim of trauma to feel that he or she has no sense of belonging. This feeling is mainly exacerbated by the rejection that these children experience within their own community and family. This applies to the raped child as well as  the child born of rape.

However, there is a certain nuance between the two. Mothers often find it very difficult to raise a raped child who is perceived as defiled and who will probably never be able to get married or to have children. Meanwhile, the child born of rape is totally unaccepted. He/she is rejected from the start because of the pressure of the community. The child evokes in the eyes of its mother a trauma she has suffered and recalls her injury on a daily basis.

The CPE program focuses on recreating bonds and attachment all around them.
  •  
    • Attachment to its family →  First of all, the child victim of rape. The purpose is to relieve the mother of her guilt, who feels she has failed to protect her child; she is not at all responsible. Furthermore, the child may never be able to be a mother - because her reproductive organs are destroyed, she is considered as soiled and therefore not good to marry. It is necessary to find a new objective and to build a project of life for this child. Second of all, when they are born of unwanted pregnancies, the children constitute a real difficulty for their mothers and family members who are forced to bear the responsibility of raising a child they never wanted. The child also reminds the mother of her trauma on a daily basis. The first step is to create a bond between the mother and its child. The child then realises he/she has the same place in his family as his/her other brothers and sisters, even if they don’t have the same father.  Besides, if the mother accepts the child, she will not be accepted within her own community. CPE works with the communities through prevention and awareness workshops to change this way of perception.
     
    • Attachment to its community →  We must sensitise local communities to support them and break taboos. These children are victims. They are not responsible for their circumstances. Ignoring the issue, ignoring them, is to jeopardize all efforts for peace and reconstructions of a post-conflict society. Therefore, CPE organizes a variety of awareness workshops.
     
    • Attachment to oneself → Once the child feels accepted in its family and its community, he/she will have more external resources, i.e. he feels that he can count on the people around him, on his surroundings. He/she will gain more self-confidence and can slowly start to reconstruct him/herself. Self-esteem and personal resource building activities are organised for this purpose.

According to Maslow’s pyramid, the feeling of security is a primary need for every person. The child can only grow and develop freely if he feels safe, protected, surrounded by people who care for him and watch over his safety. Girls who have been sexually abused are constantly suspicious and defensive because of their traumatic experience. They have not received the protection expected by the adult, - even though he’s not at all responsible - and have instead been abused by him.

It is essential for their future development to work not only on these children's sense of external security but also on their awareness of internal security. The environment is not always conducive to a feeling of external security in post-conflict zones, so the security bubble is built with mental imagery and the awareness of being safe with oneself.

The group formed by CPE is intended to represent a safety bubble for the child. We work essentially on two forms of security:

    • Physical security → It is very difficult for the victims and their families to reconstruct themselves when there is impunity for the perpetrator. When a complaint is lodged, it often means a lot of problems and danger for the families; insufficient investigation, delays to trials, no claims possible for moral or financial damages. Families often accept bad transactional proposals which put an end to all proceedings or they give up totally. CPE engages actively in all initiatives to legally support victims, in particular in areas which require expertise relating to the psychological and social consequences for children and the way in which their witness statements are collected.
       
    • Health security →  CPE wants to ensure that every child of the program has access to basic needs. By providing a balanced meal, basic health care, the child does not have to worry and can focus on the fact that he’s just a child.

Once the child has enough internal and external resources, he or she can start working on its trauma. We build a positive story with and for the child. For this purpose, CPE organizes therapeutic playgrounds during which different workshops are given - through drawing, playing with puppets, telling narrative stories but also working with heroes, talking about their future, possible jobs etc.

 ➥ How do we assess the child’s progress? At the beginning, middle and end of the program, we collect data based on exercices and psychometric tests conducted with the child and his/her mother. These data are then processed by the ULG, with whom we work very closely. This allows us to measure the progress of the children and the relevance of our tools, and thus to improve our program.

our goals

Four key points are highlighted in our program:

There are two types of identities:

  • Legal identity → It is important to know that children born out of rape are usually not recognised by their state. The first step towards a change is to undertake legal procedures to recognise the child and register him/her in the National Registry. Once this has been done, the child “exists” according to the state, but also for his/her community and for his/her rights. He/she can be enrolled in school. From there, we can start working on his/her development of its social, individual and psychological identity.

  • Personal identity → These young children born out of rape or victims of rape are often stigmatised, pointed at and even excluded from their own family and communities. This has a significant impact on their self-esteem and their sense of belonging. Through different therapeutic activities we work on improving the idea that the child has of him/herself.

It is common for a child who has been a victim of trauma to feel that he or she has no sense of belonging. This feeling is mainly exacerbated by the rejection that these children experience within their own community and family. This applies to the raped child as well as  the child born of rape.

However, there is a certain nuance between the two. Mothers often find it very difficult to raise a raped child who is perceived as defiled and who will probably never be able to get married or to have children. Meanwhile, the child born of rape is totally unaccepted. He/she is rejected from the start because of the pressure of the community. The child evokes in the eyes of its mother a trauma she has suffered and recalls her injury on a daily basis. The CPE program focuses on recreating bonds and attachment all around them:

  • Attachment to its family →  First of all, the child victim of rape. The purpose is to relieve the mother of her guilt, who feels she has failed to protect her child; she is not at all responsible. Furthermore, the child may never be able to be a mother - because her reproductive organs are destroyed, she is considered as soiled and therefore not good to marry. It is necessary to find a new objective and to build a project of life for this child. Second of all, when they are born of unwanted pregnancies, the children constitute a real difficulty for their mothers and family members who are forced to bear the responsibility of raising a child they never wanted. The child also reminds the mother of her trauma on a daily basis. The first step is to create a bond between the mother and its child. The child then realises he/she has the same place in his family as his/her other brothers and sisters, even if they don’t have the same father. Besides, if the mother accepts the child, she will not be accepted within her own community. CPE works with the communities through prevention and awareness workshops to change this way of perception.

  • Attachment to its community →  We must sensitise local communities to support them and break taboos. These children are victims. They are not responsible for their circumstances. Ignoring the issue, ignoring them, is to jeopardize all efforts for peace and reconstructions of a post-conflict society. Therefore, CPE organizes a variety of awareness workshops.

  • Attachment to oneself → Once the child feels accepted in its family and its community, he/she will have more external resources, i.e. he feels that he can count on the people around him, on his surroundings. He/she will gain more self-confidence and can slowly start to reconstruct him/herself. Self-esteem and personal resource building activities are organised for this purpose.

According to Maslow’s pyramid, the feeling of security is a primary need for every person. The child can only grow and develop freely if he feels safe, protected, surrounded by people who care for him and watch over his safety. Girls who have been sexually abused are constantly suspicious and defensive because of their traumatic experience. They have not received the protection expected by the adult, - even though he’s not at all responsible - and have instead been abused by him.

It is essential for their future development to work not only on these children's sense of external security but also on their awareness of internal security. The environment is not always conducive to a feeling of external security in post-conflict zones, so the security bubble is built with mental imagery and the awareness of being safe with oneself.

The group formed by CPE is intended to represent a safety bubble for the child. We work essentially on two forms of security:

  • Physical security → It is very difficult for the victims and their families to reconstruct themselves when there is impunity for the perpetrator. When a complaint is lodged, it often means a lot of problems and danger for the families; insufficient investigation, delays to trials, no claims possible for moral or financial damages. Families often accept bad transactional proposals which put an end to all proceedings or they give up totally. CPE engages actively in all initiatives to legally support victims, in particular in areas which require expertise relating to the psychological and social consequences for children and the way in which their witness statements are collected.

  • Health security →  CPE wants to ensure that every child of the program has access to basic needs. By providing a balanced meal, basic health care, the child does not have to worry and can focus on the fact that he’s just a child.

Once the child has enough internal and external resources, he or she can start working on its trauma. We build a positive story with and for the child. For this purpose, CPE organizes therapeutic playgrounds during which different workshops are given - through drawing, playing with puppets, telling narrative stories but also working with heroes, talking about their future, possible jobs etc.

➥ How do we assess the child’s progress? At the beginning, middle and end of the program, we collect data based on exercices and psychometric tests conducted with the child and his/her mother. These data are then processed by the ULG, with whom we work very closely. This allows us to measure the progress of the children and the relevance of our tools, and thus to improve our program.

how do we work?

train local staff

CPE trains and supports the medical and psychosocial specialists who are taking care of the victims. In Panzi, the social stakeholders, the psychotherapists and the group called the “beloved moms” are doing an amazing work. 

They are directly exposed to physically distressed children and families and left without tools to accompany and heal them. We are able to provide them training and work with them on the deep scars that rape registers on the mind and body alike, and in particular on the resilience they encounter from the local culture.

home visits

Home visits are an opportunity for CPE therapists to meet the child in his or her environment, in interactions with loved ones, to provide psychoeducation and individual therapeutic interventions if necessary.

The first visits allow for the establishment of a bond of trust that is essential for the future care of a child. The therapeutic alliance with the child’s caregivers and with a child himself is essential before the child is taken care of by the CPE protocol.

playing therapy

A therapeutic playground is organised with a group of children born of rape mixed with some village children and other children who were victims of sexual violence. The fact that the group is a mix of children with different backgrounds allows others not to stigmatise those who have been victims of rape.

It is intended to create a bond of trust between the children and the parents towards the CPE psychotherapeutic team, which is now already well established in the community.

Various activities are methodically arranged, with different aims :

In addition to the recognition of the child by the State in order to obtain a legal identity, CPE helps the children to strengthen their personal identity. Targeted activities are organized during the therapeutic playgrounds and aim at restoring the child's confidence, accompanying him/her to assert him/herself as an individual and reinforcing self-esteem.

For example, each participant has the opportunity to introduce himself to the group. They are asked to choose an adjective that defines them and/or the name of an animal that qualifies them, accompanied by a gesture of their choice. The participant introduces himself to the others who will reinforce this presentation by repeating the first name followed by the chosen adjectives in unison and in movement. Not only does the participant reinforce his or her identity, but he or she also accentuates the cohesion of the group.

First, CPE works to establish or re-establish the bond between the child and his or her reference person, generally the mother. Thus, during the therapeutic playgrounds, different activities in mother-child dyads are organized. This is an opportunity for the mother to discover her child, to notice his skills, but also to realize that other mothers are going through the same thing as her. Moreover, this approach helps the mother in her process of resilience and in the acceptance of a child who has been seen until now as a child of the "enemy".

Secondly, CPE works on attachment to the group and to the community. Each playground begins and ends with a ritual song composed by the children at the beginning of the program. By participating in group activities, children know that they are not alone. Through role-playing workshops with the community, and through the information provided, the community learns to accept rather than reject victimized families and children. All of these workshops reinforce the sense of security, belonging and provide the child with a symbolic framework and social support.

Numerous activities based on mindfulness, visualization exercises, empowerment activities, work on emotions and their regulation, will allow the child to strengthen his internal resources.

By sharing experiences, creating new friendships and complicity, the child will strengthen his external resources. The strengthening of internal and external resources is essential for the child to be able to integrate his or her story, give it meaning and deal with the trauma.

CPE's action is part of a global approach in which education plays a very important role. The academic success of the children in the program is essential. This is why CPE works with families to encourage them to send their children to school, distributes school materials and involves parents and teachers in the process of helping the children.

In this global process, CPE also takes into account health and ecology education with awareness workshops.

CPE offers continuous training to its local staff composed of psychologists, psychosocial assistants and a pedagogue.

In addition, the comprehensive care provided by CPE is complemented by prevention and awareness campaigns in the communities on various current themes related to gender equality and conflict prevention.

playing therapy

A therapeutic playground is organised with a group of children born of rape mixed with some village children and other children who were victims of sexual violence. The fact that the group is a mix of children with different backgrounds allows others not to stigmatise those who have been victims of rape.

It is intended to create a bond of trust between the children and the parents towards the CPE psychotherapeutic team, which is now already well established in the community.

Various activities are methodically arranged :

Each participant (children and adults) is given the opportunity to introduce themselves. They are instructed to choose an adjective and/or the name of an animal that qualifies them and to introduce it following their first name. This allows to reinforce the identity of each person as well as the cohesion of the group.

The activity consists of finding a rhythm, words, music and movements to create a song representing the group, which is sung at the opening of each playground as a welcoming song and at the closing of each playground as a closing song. This song allows to put a frame, to reinforce the identity and the belonging to the group, it also gives the possibility to the participants to relax thanks to the rhythms, the melody and the chosen movements. It provides a break between life outside the playground and life in the therapeutic playground.

Through targeted activities using the five senses, the mothers discovers certain characteristics and skills of their child or baby, which surprises, amazes and impresses them. The CPE staff decided to start the attachment activities with touch and smell.

The last activity before the closing song is the meal. Two mothers of children in the program are chosen in turn to prepare a well-balanced meal that is distributed to the children seated around a table. This activity - carried out in a serene and joyful atmosphere - is an opportunity for the mothers to participate in the feeding of their child, which allows once again to strengthen the bonding process. They also help supervise the activities according to the instructions given by the CPE staff: this way, they are given new responsibilities.