Annuarite Tagenge, 17, arrived in Bunia, the main town in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) region of Ituri on 8 January after spending almost a year walking through the forest to reach the town to search for her siblings.
Tagenge and her family fled the territory of Dungu in the northeast in December 2008, after attacks by Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and a consequent joint Congolese and Ugandan government army offensive to oust the rebels. The LRA killed at least 865 civilians and abducted more than 160 children in the region over the period, according to human rights organizations.
Tagenge, who was 16 then, was wounded and admitted to hospital in Dungu in the northeast for surgery; along with thousands of civilians, she later fled the hospital for the bush. She shared her experience with IRIN.
"When the fighting started, we fled through the forest, [with] my whole family… and we fell into the hands of the LRA rebels. They killed my father and mother. Four of us survived; my brother, my two sisters and I.
"We then continued into the bush but the LRA fighting and attacks continued, forcing me to be separated from my brother and sisters.
"After walking for several weeks, I found myself in Abba [a locality further north along the border with Sudan]… I was all alone. As I tried to find my family, people advised me to look for them [towards] Bunia [about 700km south]. I then headed towards Bunia with three other girls. Unfortunately, we were often ambushed by the LRA in the forest.
"It was after several months that we reached Isiro [the main town in Haut-Uélé District in northeastern Orientale Province, about 600km north of Bunia.
"We decided to continue [on to Bunia] and it was after two months of walking that we reached [the] town.
"As you can see … I am wiped out from the journey, my feet are swollen, I suffered a lot because of the wound from the operation and [was sick] in my lower abdomen and back, [but] there was no medicine.
"Along the way, we sucked on sugar cane that FARDC [Congolese army] soldiers gave us out of pity; we had no money for food, our clothes were torn, we were almost naked.
"[On] arrival in Bunia, my three friends found their families, but not me. A woman took me into her house, just after we arrived here [on 8 January], but three days later her husband chased me away.
"Even if I do not find my family, I want to live, to continue my studies and to become somebody… what have I done to deserve all this suffering?”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions