Today I immersed myself in the transcript from the first focus group that I facilitated at Panzi hospital in the fall of 2012. As I read their discussion, I had in front of me a picture of the group. Margerita is 18, Solange 18, Noela 19, Emily 19 and Sylvia 18. These are not their real names. They were asked to pick aliases so we can protect their identities, an activity they seemed to enjoy and one of the lighter moments in our time together. These ages may not be accurate either. Several of these girls looks younger than 18 but sometimes people don’t know their actual birthday and given they had to be 18 to participate, they may have fudged the numbers a bit. These girls just wanted to talk – and have someone listen. In a setting like this and given the circumstances, 18 as the age for consent seems a bit ludicrous.
I trained and hired a young Congolese woman to run the focus groups, let’s call her Sara, and I hired my long-time young friend Ali to translate. Sara is herself a survivor, with two small children, each born from a separate attack. She accepts her young son who is fathered by a Congolese perpetrator but struggles to accept the daughter whose father is a Rwandan or as she describes him, “Interahamwe.” Interahamwe were overwhelmingly identified by survivors in this project as the perpetrators of the attacks. This was true in my previous research project, too. Interahamwe are known to have carried out the 1994 genocide.
I offered nothing in return for participation in the focus group – no money or gifts. The girls were informed by Panzi hospital staff that I was running a group and looking for volunteers to talk about the experience of having a child born from violence. These young ladies gave informed consent and several had their babies or small children in tow. The girls had only some primary school education and they had been at the hospital any where from 4 months to 3 years.
For this first read, I am not thinking about theoretical frameworks or methodologies. I’m simply interested in circling key words, writing in the margins the topics discussed, and underlining remarkable quotes. Here’s are some of their words in no particular order and with no interpretation. Please do not infer judgments based on these raw data. These quotes are a snapshot that must be contextualized and considered alongside all data from the focus groups. Given the small sample size, generalizability is also not possible:
“Sometimes she says, ‘Well, I’m gonna kill this child’ and another time she feels mercy on the child and she keeps the child alive.”
“Shall I kill this child or what can I do? Where shall I take this child?”
“It is not our will that we get such children. We have many trouble with those children and our families do not want us to stay with those children. We don’t receive any assistance and we don’t receive any support.”
“Both children and their mothers have got a bad reputation. They are not accepted in the community. And people stigmatize them. They say, ‘Okay these are bad people. These children do not belong to our tribe. You return it to their fathers, so you return these children to their fathers, the Interahamwes. We don’t need them here so you bring them back where you get them.'”
“She was ashamed because she was impregnated by the Interahamwe.”
“I named my child Baracka because it is a blessing from God.”
“I have named my child Ushindi which means victory.”
“Most of the children are rejected. Sometimes you can happen to accept a child but you will not give it the same value as the other children. You not give that child born from rape the same value you give to other children because you got her mainly from trouble and hardship.”
“I can give all the children the same value.”
“I will not love this child as I love my other children.”
“I can lover her more than I love the other children because, you know, I have been going through many difficulties and challenges before I got her.”
“You know, when you are pregnant, and you got the pregnancy from rape, there is no one who is going to encourage you in this society. You will be going from discouragement to discouragement. You have no support. You have no relatives, you have no parents to help you.”
“What makes me not to make an abortion, because I had in mind that probably this child will be a great help for me in the future.”
“If God blesses that child he can become a great person.”
“It doesn’t matter when a child is a boy or a girl. But you know the people in the society think that as this child is from Interahamwes…you now Interahamwes are violent persons, you know they have a wild mind, they can kill, they can torture and everything so the people in society think that, ‘Okay, this child is from Interahamwe and when she’s gonna grow up, she’s gonna behave in the same way as her father.'”
“We neglect ourselves because we don’t think we are normal persons.”
“If the war is finished in the country it can help end the stigma. We need to stop the rape, and then the stigma will no longer be there. When I am here and I’m just living in peace, I can accept my child.”
“I want my child to grow up and become generous. I wan him to be helping other people.”
“I want to be respected. I want to be honored. And I want my child to live a good life. And you know, people can respect me if I go to school and if I get a job. So respect comes from education and work.”