UN honours Sister Angelique Namaika for LRA victim work

Sister Angelique Namaika is a familiar sight on her bicycle, which she uses to visit the girls she helps in Dungu and nearby villages Sister Angelique cycles to visit those she helps in Dungu and nearby villages

A nun helping female victims of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo is to receive a top UN award for her work.

Since 2003 Sister Angelique Namaika has helped more 2,000 women and girls abused and displaced by the rebels.

She will receive the award at the end of the month and afterwards will have an audience with Pope Francis.

She told the BBC it was a surprise to be honoured and she would ask the Pope "to pardon [LRA leader] Joseph Kony".

Kony, who has an estimated 200-500 fighters in his movement, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

Start Quote

I also teach them sewing, cooking and baking in order to help them to generate some income”

End Quote Sister Angelique Namaika

He has waged war in northern Uganda, South Sudan, north-eastern DR Congo and the Central African Republic for more than two decades.

His fighters are known for raiding remote areas and forcibly recruiting children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves.

"I will also ask the Pope to intervene so peace can return to our country," Sister Angelique told the BBC's Newsday programme.

The Nansen Refugee Award, given annually by the UN refugee agency, recognises exceptional work among refugees.

'Humanitarian heroine'

Sister Angelique set up a centre in the north-eastern Congolese town of Dungu, a region where the UN says electricity, running water and paved roads are scarce.

The Roman Catholic nun told the BBC her first priority was to help the displaced women and girls learn the local language, so they are able to talk to vendors and go about their business.

"I also teach them sewing, cooking and baking in order to help them to generate some income - my goal for them is to be financially independent," she told the BBC.

Women attending a sewing class - DR Congo Sister Angelique raises money for sewing lessons by selling crops

Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said the challenges she faces make her work "all the more remarkable".

"These women's lives have been shattered by brutal violence and displacement. Sister Angelique has proven that even one person can make a huge difference in the lives of families torn apart by war. She is a true humanitarian heroine," he said in a statement.

Sister Angelique said some of the women have had traumatic experiences - some being captured by the rebels as young as 11 or 12 and given to rebels soldiers as their wives.

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I am very happy, I was always feeling lonely in my own activities - sometimes I even cried, but now I know I'm not alone”

End Quote Sister Angelique

"Sometimes each rebel has several wives, that's why when the girls come out the bush they come out with kids," she said.

The UNHCR says these vulnerable women and girls are often ostracised by their own families and communities because of their ordeal.

Sister Angelique, who was displaced herself for a while in 2009 when the LRA attacked Dungu, said her centre was currently assisting 150 women.

The money she makes from selling crops she has cultivated pays for the sewing workshops, she says.

"I also have an oven at home, I bake breads every day which I sell, the money from the bread helped me to organise other activities for the women," she told the BBC.

Finding out about the award was a "big surprise", she said.

"I was always thinking that what I was doing here was not such a big thing... I am very happy, I was always feeling lonely in my own activities - sometimes I even cried, but now I know I'm not alone," she told Newsday.

A new report on legacy of the LRA - A Life of Fear and Flight by the UNHCR and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre - says that since 2008 an estimated 320,000 people have been forced to flee in DR Congo's north-eastern province of Orientale - in some cases several times.

The fear of LRA violence has created such severe and long-lasting trauma for both the abductees and the hundreds of thousands of people still too afraid to return home, it says.

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