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  • Delu Lusambia in Goma, DRC (UN Photo / Thomas Freteur)

People for Peace: Delu Lusambia on supporting victims of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

More than one million peacekeepers have served for peace under the UN flag, but they are not alone in the pursuit of peace. Peacekeeping is powered by strong and diverse partnerships. In this new series, we bring you the voices of peacekeepers and partners across the world, to mark the International Day of Peacekeepers, 29 May.

Original reporting: Thomas Freteur / Edited by: Minji Ko

Delu Lusambia is the project manager and coordinator of SYAM, which stands for “Siku ya Mazingira” (The Value of Nature Conservation in Kiswahili), a local civil society organization in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). SYAM collaborates with the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO, to implement projects for the Trust Fund in support of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. The Trust Fund projects are funded by 24 Member States and implemented in partnership with development actors, including United Nations agencies and civil society.

“My organization, SYAM, has been working on the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel since 2007. Around that time, many people in the DRC were internally displaced and took refuge from North Kivu and the Eastern provinces to areas near the MONUSCO camps. They were left without jobs, without any means to sustain their lives. As a result, many women and girls exchanged sexual favours with UN peacekeepers for money and food.

From 2007 to 2016, SYAM conducted surveys and heard many testimonies about sexual exploitation. We shared the result of the surveys and proposed projects to support and empower women and girls in partnership with MONUSCO.

I am proud of the impact that we are making. First, from our observation on the ground, occurrences of sexual exploitation and abuse have decreased. Also, a large number of beneficiaries have been trained through our projects. We are delighted to see our beneficiaries — a total of 375 beneficiaries between 2020 and 2021 — gain vital skills to sustain their lives.

We are also witnessing changes in the culture and attitudes. SYAM works with local community networks to raise awareness within communities in Eastern DRC about sexual exploitation and abuse and how to report these wrongs. Now the reporting of such cases has become a common practice. Whenever they see suspicious activities, the communities speak up to raise concerns with MONUSCO.”

Economic vulnerability and power imbalances can expose people to the risk of sexual misconduct. We realised the urgent need to support victims, especially those who had children born of sexual abuse by peacekeepers. That is why we created vocational training centres for women and girls. In these centres, we train them in pastry-making, tailoring, bread-making, hairdressing, and agriculture.