It was the silence of the traumatised young women she saw before her that convinced dance teacher Amina Lusambo she must do something to help.
So she set up dance sessions for rape survivors at a rehabilitation centre attached to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in eastern Congo, which according to hospital authorities has treated more than 60 000 survivors of sexual violence in its some 20 years of operation.
Congo’s eastern borderlands have remained gripped by violence since the official end of a civil war in 2003, with armed groups fighting for land, resources and self-protection.
“I started doing this because of the girls who came to us in a state of silence. They were raped at a young age and they didn’t know how to express themselves. They were so withdrawn,” said Lusambo.
Now the same women line up in brightly coloured leggings for her classes, where they learn to reconnect with their bodies.
“You can do more in one month of dance than in three months of psychotherapy,” Lusambo said.
The Panzi hospital and rehabilitation centre was founded by Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
“We don’t just do the medical treatment anymore,” said Mukwege. The centre also provides psychological care, helps the women reintegrate into society, supports them economically and assists them in seeking justice, he said.
Twenty-year-old woman in Lusambo’s class said dancing had released her from the pain and fear she held inside, allowing her to sleep peacefully and smile again.
Three years ago the woman, who asked not to be identified, said she was raped and left for dead by unidentified men wearing combat fatigues in her village in South Kivu province, where sexual violence has been a feature of the unrest for more than 20 years. She did not know if they were from a militia group or army soldiers.
The young woman’s family did not complain to authorities because they feared repercussions, they said, and took her to the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu. Reuters was not able to confirm her account independently.