“I left to avoid marrying my brother, now I help other displaced women”

Mwavita comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and lives in a Tanzanian refugee camp where she is president of the direction committee. In the last 11 years almost three million people have escaped from the DRC because of the continual violence that has made life in the eastern part of the country impossible, but Mwavita’s story is another kind of escape story, another war, that blew up within the four walls of the house. She was a young girl of 14 when her parents told her that she had been adopted and ordered her to marry her brother. Mwavita couldn’t do that; her brother, even if not of the same blood, was still her brother, and she would never marry him. So what had until a moment before been her family showed themselves in all their true cruel colours: either she married who they said or she would be killed.

Mwavita decided that the only choice she had was to run away. She left her country and sought refuge in Tanzania. In the camp at Lugufu, where she had to re-start her life all over again, by herself, while the community in which she lived had become her new family, she began to show her qualities of leadership and soon with her character and courage had become a point of reference for the other refugee women living in the camp.

Mwavita has been the representative and leader of the refugee women for more than 12 years. “As their leader,” she says, ‘ I always listen to everybody, I organize meetings and share information with the others. I like it when everyone works together to resolve the problems of the community.”. Despite her success, she has had to continually fight against the cultural reservations that the male community have against women: “At meetings, even if I have a good idea, the men always say: Who cares what you think? You haven’t even been to school. So now I am trying hard to make the girls study so that they won’t have to go through what I’ve been through.”

“Believe in yourselves,” is Mwavita’s advice to the young girls listening to her, “I’m a leader above all because I felt that I could be one. In the same way, always remember to have faith in the community and treat everyone with respect because we are all human beings after all.”

Today Mwavita is 47 and is living in the camp at Nyarugusu, She works together with UNHCR, who are responsible for bringing her story to light, in creating emancipation strategies for refugee women.