Photo: COOPI Archive
Mboneza’s parents arrive in Kishusha (Democratic Republic of Congo), escaping from the anti-hutu violence of Raia Mutomboki. Mboneza arrives with them at Buporo – a camp for displaced people – after having spent most of her 20 years escaping. It’s ironic, because she can’t even stand on her own legs. With her yellow dress, covering the lower half of her body, she forwards her arms as if she were using crutches, and it almost seems as if she does not have legs at all. But her legs are there, folded on top of themselves and so deformed that they have lost their functionality.
“She has probably suffered from rickets,” says Dr. Vincker Lushombo, medical coordinator of the Italian NGO COOPI, who offers free medical care in the Kibabi dispensary, the only assistance displaced people receive. The cause of rickets is an acute deficiency of vitamin D, often due to insufficient nutrition. Without the support of the United Nations, the displaced work when and where they can as daily workers in the fields or mines of coltan and manganese and never eat meat.
Mboneza has a 18-month-old son due to rape. Rickets is rarely inherited, however, hunger is. The young girl was malnourished during her pregnancy. After COOPI’s care, the baby was born healthy, but the mother had hardly any milk to nourish it. At 6 months, the child suffered from malnutrition, and COOPI intervened again. Mboneza tells her story, her exhaustive experience, aloud and refuses to move to a more discreet place to talk. She is courageous and despite her misery, her dignity is still intact.