World Health Day

Bernadette Sayo's mission: "Teaming up for a common cause"

Heroes for health in the Central African Republic

Bernadette Sayo

"I was with my children, together with my husband. I saw my husband murdered before me. I was myself raped by a group of these criminals – five of them. They raped me in front of my children. […] My baby was one year old when his father was murdered. He was in the arms of his father. A shell took off his father’s head, and the baby was just left in the arms of his father, and this child has subsequently become sort of witless. [Now four], he began to speak only a year and a half ago. There’s also my little boy, who ended up with bullets and shrapnel in his hands, and then there’s the elder one, Junior. He kept seeing his father, which caused him to run away screaming. He couldn't sleep a wink for two months. He is traumatized."

Bernadette did not give up hope and began seeking other victims of sexual violence. She soon created an association, the Organization for Compassion and the Developments of Families in Distress (OCODEFAD), "in order to mobilize everyone together, to try and fight for a common cause so at least the perpetrators of these crimes can be punished." OCODEFAD is the only forum in the country where victims of sexual violence can find company, aid and comfort, despite the lack of professional help available. WHO helped these victims to set up activities to finance a collective insurance scheme for their medical expenses.

"The members of this organization are women who have been raped, the widows of conflicts, sodomized men, little girls who have been raped, elderly people who have been raped… We have cases of people who have been tortured; we have some bereaved families… There are victims who still have bullets in their bodies, who need medical attention, and we are faced with enormous problems in terms of resources, in terms of medical facilities and psychological treatment, so we also need considerable human resources. […] There are numerous young girls who have been raped and who can no longer go to school, because all rape victims are rejected from their community. They are booed and pointed at everywhere they go."

Being ostracized for having being raped is one of the cruellest consequences these victims face. Only by organizing support groups and demanding justice can positive social change be brought. Things are gradually moving, though much is still to be done. Bernadette's action shows that solidarity is the way to move forward.

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Support from the top: Madame Doumta backs OCODEFAD

Bernadette Sayo and OCODEFAD have an influential ally in Léa Koyassoum Doumta. Newly appointed Minister of Health, Mme Doumta became a forthright champion of the victims of violence in her previous positions as Minister for Social Affairs and Minister of Justice. She continues to support OCODEFAD in its quest for justice and physical and mental relief.