When Angelique Namaika was a child she became so sick that she almost didn’t survive, but what followed was a happy childhood, one in which she was very close to her parents, giving her a good foundation for helping those in need.
In 1990, she started her training to become a Roman Catholic nun. “It was not a simple thing to choose to become a nun,” she says, revealing that she was inspired by a German nun, Sister Tone, who used to come to her village to treat the sick.
“She had hardly any time to rest, to eat. That’s why I said that I would do everything to become like her and help her in this work . . . I did not even know if there were black nuns. I only saw a white nun and said that I would like to become like her.”
In 2003, Sister Angélique was sent by the church to teach trainee nuns in Dungu, a small, dusty place in the far north-east of Orientale province in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I saw a group of women getting together but they had no one to guide them, to train them. These women did not have the chance to go to school, but they were willing to work and be helpful to society. I started teaching sewing, cooking and literacy classes,” she explains. “We have to help women to become independent, to support themselves and their families without being obliged to depend on their husbands. That way they learn their true value,” she said.
Sister Angelique used produce from the surrounding fields to sell to people in the town to help finance her work through her Centre for Reintegration and Development.
In 2005, Joseph Kony‘s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) arrived in the area, causing mass displacement and leaving scores of abused women. “I identified them when they were coming out of the bush after being abducted by the LRA, and directed them to structures giving emergency assistance. We then involved them in the activities of the centre,” she says.
Since the LRA arrived in Dungu, 25,000 of the town’s 73,000 population have been displaced from nearby towns and villages. “I saw that displaced women had many difficulties; they lived through atrocities and had enormous trauma. It was important to help them. I realised that learning to write and training will help them forget the trauma, the LRA, and what they had to go through. This is what pushed me to help these women and help them become independent,” she says.
During her ten years of service to the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, her most profound memory is of a mute young girl who had been forced to flee her home because villagers who were superstitious of her muteness believed her family had brought death to the community.
“When I see children without parents it touches me, because I grew up in a loving home with my family all around me. So despite the poor conditions I do my best to help. I am not discouraged, even if resources are low,” she said.
“I took the girl in and taught her how to bake pastry and now she has blossomed in her work. I also helped her reconcile her differences with her mother and her community and they get on very well today.”
Since starting her quest she has helped over 2,000 abused girls and women with very little at her disposal, dedicating her life to their well-being which really does make her a huge inspiration.
At the end of last month, her hard work paid off as she was awarded the Nansen Refugee Award by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for her contribution to the welfare of refugees and displaced persons. As part of the prize she will receive $100,000 (75,000 euros) to put towards her ongoing efforts under the supervision of the UNHCR.
“This prize is a big joy for me. It means that I have people to help me,” says Sister Angélique, “I said: ‘Yes, now I can do something.'” I am very grateful to UNHCR for their help. I also thank the women for their courage, their perseverance.”
The UN refugee agency said in a statement: “Her one-on-one approach helps (the women) recover from the trauma and damage. On top of the abuse they have suffered, these vulnerable women and girls are often ostracised by their own families and communities because of their ordeal.”
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres commended the 2013 laureate: “The challenges are massive, which makes her work all the more remarkable, she doesn’t allow anything to stand in her way.”
Sister Angelique added: “Today, I am recognized. I ask God to keep me simple and take away the wish to be proud. I welcomed this prize with all my heart.”