For 12-year-old Thérèse, the violence that swept Kasai Central between 2016-2017 also cost her her family. Her father used to work In Tshikapa, a mining town in neighbouring Kasai province, but she hasn’t heard from him since the Bana Mura counter militias began attacks last year.
Following local practice, after the death of her father, Thérèse’s mum went back to her own family and left Thérèse, her older sister Monique, and their big brother with her paternal grandparents.
One day last spring, the militia that had started the violence, the Kamuina Nsapu, arrived in Thérèse’s village.
“They were killing people. They were decapitating people. They were shooting people,” she tells me. “They asked me for my name so they could add me to the list and recruit me, but I said no. When we refused, they followed us into the forest and tried to kill us.”
Thérèse, her grandparents and her siblings spent one month hiding from the militia in the forest. Her grandfather died during this time, not violently, but due to conflict all the same, as hunger and exposure to illness in the bush took his life.
“All we had to eat were leaves,” Thérèse remembers. When she and the three surviving members of her family ventured out of the woods at the end of the month, the evidence of the conflict was all around them.
“We’d see people who’d been killed, but with their heads missing, lying on the ground."
"When we came back to the village from the bush, we found the houses burnt and dead bodies everywhere.”
“Our house was burnt,” Thérese says. “We lost our chickens, and all of our clothes.”
Almost one year later, Thérèse is back in school in Year 4, but is still worried about the conflict. “I’m scared,” she says quietly. “I’m just waiting for the conflict to come back.”
Thérèse finds some solace coming to a local Child Friendly Space World Vision has set up in her community, providing a safe space for children to play and receive psychosocial support. Thérèse and her sister both love playing football on the nearby pitch.
“When I’m not playing football, I like to play checkers or dice.” Thérèse smiles. “I’m comfortable here; I’m happy to come and play games.”
Thérèse also finds solace in her faith, and often visits the local Catholic Church. “I want to become a nun and dedicate myself to God,” she tells me. “It brings me joy when I pray.”
Despite everything that has happened to Thérèse and her family over the past few years, she has faith that God is with her. “I know God is here,” she tells me.
World Vision has been responding to the crisis in the Kasais since August 2017 and has reached over 497,000 people to date, including 38,164 children working with 47 schools and creating 18 Child Friendly Spaces in Kasai and Kasai Central. Thérèse was one of 100 children recently interviewed by World Vision for the report, Will You Hear Us? 100 children in DRC tell their story.