Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

02. May 2005

© Kate Brubacher


Kate Brubacher

Kate Brubacher in the refugee camp in Ghana. In various talks with refugee women she documented their destinies.


Annie, another widow, whose life story was documented by Kate.

Women who change the World

(Kate E. Brubacher)

Over 40,000 Liberian refugees live in Buduburam, a UNHCR refugee camp outside of Accra, Ghana.

While violent outbreaks in Monrovia continue, many of these people have little hope of ever returning to what remains of their homes. Within the camp, small groups gather to support each other. An organized program for approximately 200 widows meets every Friday. For five months, I met with a subset of this group. I recorded their journeys from Liberia, listened to the struggles of living in a refugee camp, and cried with them for lost husbands, children and friends. As the violence and poverty all over sub-Saharan Africa rages unrelenting, the widows provide new perspective. Instead of political theories or social-frameworks through which to make sense out of the pain they have endured, these women offer nothing but human connection. In this most essential way, they have a profound effect on all those they touch.

Perhaps Lucy didn’t mean to be so influential. She might have been content living quietly with her husband and children in Grand Gedeh County, Liberia . But in 1989, when Charles Taylor’s rebels entered Liberia from the Ivory Coast, she had to split her family for the sake of safety and begin a journey that would take her across three countries and unimaginable pain. With their village invaded by rebels, Lucy’s husband took some of the children to find security in a neighboring town, while Lucy and three young ones went to live with her mother. But there was no safety with her mother. As Charles Taylor’s army swept across the country, they caught up with Lucy. Everyone fled as the rebels destroyed homes and lives. As she ran, Lucy was separated from her children and captured. Three rebels held her, one threatening that she would be killed. But another rebel happened to know Lucy and suggested that they keep her as a slave. Although they spared her life, the men cut a large portion of flesh from inside her right thigh and made her eat it. They then punctured her Achilles tendon, strung a chain through it and tied her to a post while they finished ravaging the village.

The rebels held Lucy for one and a half years. She lived with them in the bush and was forced to serve them. She cooked their food, washed their clothes, and underwent sexual violations too painful for her to explain. Each week she was expected to go to the market, get food for the camp, and bring it back to the bush where the rebels lived. After a year of escorting her, she was trusted to go into the market unescorted. So she and the other captive women would gather the necessary supplies and return to serve the rebels. On the third time she was sent unaccompanied, she decided to escape. She arrived with the other women and routinely purchased food for the rebels. But as the other women turned to go back, Lucy ran off into the crowd and hid. She jumped in the bush, gathered wood and sold it at the market. She gradually got the funds to take her to the next village. She continued to sell small items from the bush in market after market until she finally made it all the way to Ghana . She arrived in Buduburam by herself. She has been reunited with two grandsons at the camp. Years later, she is unable to give details about the “evil things” the rebels did to her during her time in captivity, but the physical abuse is evident in her medical problems and recurrent trauma.

How does a woman like Lucy change the world? She has the strength to share her story. She welcomes us into her life and exposes the atrocities of humanity. Her bright face and dynamic tales break through our insulated worlds, if only for a moment, and sting us to work for peace. Lucy and her fellow widows remind us why we believe in human rights, and why we fight to preserve the dignity of every individual. In this way, these women are changing the world.

Kate Brubacher is studying Philosophy, Religious Studies and History in Stanford. She worked with Liberian refugees in Ghana.


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