Democratic Republic of the Congo: Violette Lakulu Nkwewa

Ever since she was a young girl, Lakulu Nkwewa Violette was inspired by her older brother’s involvement in the Red Cross.

by Malcolm Lucard, IFRC

Ever since she was a young girl, Lakulu Nkwewa Violette was inspired by her older brother’s involvement in the Red Cross. “I loved the group of young volunteers he belonged to,” she recalls. “They were always together. Sometimes they argued but then they made up. On the field, they all spontaneously brought relief to victims, mostly related to car accidents.

“This fostered a desire in me to also join; a desire which was reinforced when I saw volunteers bring relief to a person who seemed old, fallen and abandoned,” adds Violette. “They washed him and the victim recovered. He was not actually an old man, but rather a young one, weakened by disease. This gesture really moved me and strengthened my conviction to become a volunteer rescuer.”

Violette joined as a junior volunteer at the age of 11, was trained in basic emergency response, and over the years continued to improve her skills and expand her knowledge. “Some people were surprised that a woman could serve as a rescue volunteer, but I always told them that volunteering or rescuing was not restricted to men.”

Now, at the age of 47, she has 36 years experience with the Red Cross and serves as a national trainer and coordinator of the women's brigade for the city-province of Kinshasa. She is very proud of her National Society, particularly its work regarding helping child soldiers and children from the street. “Many children have become useful to society; they finished their university studies and work,” she says.

“I am also proud of the first aid volunteers, especially the women, who have always been the first ones to arrive on the scene of an accident.”

Her toughest moment as a volunteer came when she was taken hostage by the former child soldiers that she was supervising. “The children were complaining that they hadn’t received any financial support to enable them to resume normal life, so they offloaded their frustration onto me, taking me hostage for more than 24 hours to put pressure on the Red Cross to meet their needs. As I was on good terms with them, they didn’t do anything wrong to me. I used my powers of persuasion until the authorities of the Red Cross came to release me.”

While proud of the work done by the Democratic Republic of Congo Red Cross Society, Violette says there are areas where the National Society can improve. “We must strengthen the capacity of our National Society to respond to disasters,” provide volunteers with adequate equipment and training, and find resources to offer people a desperately needed ambulance service.

While Violette feels the Movement generally takes good care of its volunteers, she says it could do more to ensure that all actors in a country’s conflict know that the activities carried out by the Red Cross are for the benefit of all and that volunteers must be protected. “Neither the emblem of the Red Cross nor the humanitarian work is respected,” she says. “People are starting to understand a little, but there is still a great deal of education to do.”