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Latest update : 2017-09-08

In DR Congo, karate helps rape victims rebuild their lives

For the past three years, Frenchwoman Laurence Fischer, a three-time world karate champion, has travelled to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo to help female victims of rape. Alongside the renowned surgeon Dr. Mukwege, the top athlete teaches these traumatised women self-defence and tries to help them regain self-confidence and rebuild their lives.

Once a week, in Bukavu, on the shores of Lake Kivu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sandra and a dozen other women swap their long coloured skirt for a white kimono. On the tatami, they meet up with their coach, Franck Kwabe. He is a black belt in karate, and the assistant of Laurence Fischer, a former world champion. Kwabe is a student and in his spare time, he teaches self-defence to these traumatised women.

Acquiring strength and endurance

The classes take place at the Panzi Foundation, an institution created in 2008 by Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist and surgeon who rebuilds women's lower abdomens and repairs the bayonet wounds on their chests. In eastern DRC, a region plagued by conflict, rape is used as a weapon of war and women find themselves on the front line. Every year, thousands of them suffer shocking sexual abuse.

>> On France 24, also watch our documentary: "Denis Mukwege, the Congolese doctor who 'heals' raped women"

For one week, Laurence Fischer, a three-time world champion who retired from professional karate in 2006, takes over the classes. For the past ten years, the Frenchwoman has chosen to help women who are victims of violence across the world, like in the DRC. The karate champion gives her lessons free of charge. They are aimed at boosting both physical and mental capacities: "Thanks to karate, these women realise that they have strength. They also acquire endurance and concentration. They will need strength, endurance and concentration to meet the challenges ahead,” she explains.

'When I practise karate, my fear evaporates'

This is certainly the case for Sandra, who was raped at the age of 16 by a neighbour. She is the most assiduous of all the students and would not miss a karate class for anything in the world. Unable to speak on arrival at the centre, she is now full of life and has found the strength to rebound: "When I practise karate, my fear evaporates," the teenager says with a smile. Sandra would have liked to learn how to defend herself earlier, to be able to stand up to her attacker. In turn, she has decided to pass on karate to the girls in her neighbourhood so that they don't experience the same ordeal as her.

By Katya CLARENS , Thomas NICOLON , Bastien RENOUIL

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