Bicycling nun’s dedication to victims of Ugandan rebels rewarded
DUNGU – Sister Angelique Namaika, the Congolese nun who won a prestigious UN refugee award on Tuesday, has tirelessly dedicated her life to helping abused women and has no plans to relax.
“Jesus went everywhere doing good. He didn’t have time to relax, so I too, I should always stay on my feet,” said Sister Angelique, her back turned to the Kibali river in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
She was awarded the $100,000 Nansen Refugee Award by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for her tireless work in helping women who escaped extreme cruelty at the hands of Ugandan rebel movement the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
“I acquired the taste for becoming a nun when I met a German sister,” the 46-year-old said. “Each time she came to see us to care for the sick, there were many of them and she did not have time to rest, to eat.
“I told myself I would go and help her, to give her respite.”
Sister Angelique, her hair wrapped in a beige scarf above almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones, has been working with women in perilous situations since 2003 and has also taken in children orphaned by the LRA, one of the most brutal armed movements in Africa, and by AIDS.
She has “a passion above all for the female victims of atrocities, you feel that from her words,” says Father Remi, who runs the church which the nun attends.
Sister Angelique was born in the village of Kembisa, in the DR Congo’s northeastern Orientale Province, to a farming family of pious Christians. She was one of six children and was partly schooled by her grandmother.
She became a member of the Augustinian religious order, who devote their lives to the care of the sick, and trained as a nun in Doruma, a town in the province of her birth, where she stayed for 12 years.
In 2003, after a stay at Bangadi, she came to Dungu, further north. These places are located in a region whose soil is rich for farmers and in minerals – and where armed groups such as the LRA are endemic.
Led by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, who is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court, LRA fighters are notorious for murder, rape, mutilation, looting and forcing children to become soldiers and sex slaves.
The fighters crossed the Ugandan border into neighboring countries in 2005, chased by the army, and Angelique knows firsthand of the terror of the rebels’ approach: she had to flee rebel violence in October 2009, returning the following January.
With 110,000 of its 320,000 displaced, Dungu is the worst affected territory in the DR Congo, though the Congolese army claims that the LRA no longer operates in the country.
The UN mission in DR Congo has reported a considerable decline in LRA attacks, but counted about 50 incidents in which 17 people were killed since the start of the year.
Angelique is constantly on the move on her bicycle on the chaotic and dusty roads of the region. She goes out to give literacy lessons in Lingala, the main local language, and to teach baking, cooking and sewing to make clothes.
“Without the sister, I would never have been to school,” says 19-year-old Anne. “I learned to cook… The money I earn helps me to pay for school and for medical care for the child,” she said.
Anne, not her real name, left the hands of the rebels pregnant by an LRA fighter, who had claimed her as his wife, and was forced to participate in beating a young girl to death with a club after she tried to escape.
“She gives me advice and guidance to forget what I experienced,” she said.
During her lessons or out in the fields with women, Angelique is always alert, and generally deals with indiscipline with a smile and a fitting remark. But not always. “I get angry quickly when things don’t go like I thought they would,” she acknowledges.
With her prize, she hopes that her projects will progress more quickly. “I was the spokeswoman of these women and these vulnerable children. Because of that, I will dedicate this gift to women, because without them, I would never have received the prize,” she said.