I’d never met anyone like Janet.

She had experienced brutal violence I’d only ever read about. She had suffered loss I could only imagine. And yet, Janet’s spirit was unbroken.

Strength emanated from her as she spoke. Janet shared her painful past with courage and conviction. Even as she talked about the gruesome details of captivity, her voice never wavered.

This is the story she told me.

A Captive in the Congo

Janet was at home with her parents in the Congo when a group of rebel soldiers barged through the front door. They grabbed Janet and dragged her to their camp in the forest.

There, Janet was kept prisoner for four weeks – a guard watching her every move. Every day brought another horror. Different soldiers took turns raping her. They threatened her, telling her that if she ever escaped, they would find her and cut off her head.

She faced a terrible choice – stay and be brutalized or attempt to escape.

After four weeks, the rebels thought they had broken Janet’s will to escape. For the first time, they let her go to the river to collect water alone.

Janet saw her opportunity.

Gathering all her courage, she ran. For five days, she scrambled through thorny brush, the threat of capture looming over her. She was hungry, sick and weak.

At last, she reached her parent’s house. Relief washed over her, followed quickly by dread. She knew that at any moment, the rebels could burst through the door and carry out their threat.

She worried about something else too.

Shortly before rebels kidnapped her, she had fallen in love and gotten engaged to a man in her village. His name was Gallas. Janet was sure that Gallas would leave her because she had been raped. Many men would have done just that. But not Gallas. Despite pressure from his own parents, Gallas did not abandon her. He embraced and comforted her. He assured her of his love and commitment.

Together, they decided to flee to Uganda. It was the only way to ensure Janet’s safety.

New Beginnings in Uganda

Janet and Gallas made their way to a refugee settlement called Kyangwali, in western Uganda. There, they received a plot of land. They built a small home and began to grow crops. Their home was peaceful. It felt like a million miles from the violence in the Congo.

Janet washes clothes outside her home in Kyangwali refugee settlement in Uganda
Janet washes clothes outside her home in Kyangwali refugee settlement in Uganda.

Praying that the worst was behind them, Janet and Gallas married and dreamed of starting a family. Soon, Janet became pregnant with their first baby. She carried the baby for nine months.

The excitement of bringing a child into the world took a tragic turn when it came time to deliver. The baby was in distress. Janet needed an emergency C-section, but help was almost two hours away. By the time Janet delivered her baby, he had died.

Janet and Gallas were devastated. Grief-stricken, Gallas wrapped up the small body of their baby boy and carried him home to be buried.

Through the heartbreak, Janet and Gallas leaned on their faith. They prayed that God would bless them with another child.

A month later, their prayers were answered. Janet became pregnant again. Again, they planned for their future as parents. But the nightmare of the first birth replayed itself. Janet needed an emergency C-section. Again, help was too far away, and her baby did not survive birth.

A Healthy Baby Girl

Years of tragedy had visited Janet and Gallas. Through it all, they clung to each other and to their faith. They continued to hope for a child.

Soon, Janet became pregnant for a third time. But this pregnancy was different. Janet was halfway through her pregnancy when Medical Teams started working in her community.

A Medical Teams clinic was only a few minutes from Janet’s home. She visited the clinic for prenatal check-ups. There, midwives told her the safest delivery would be via C-section. This time, she wouldn’t have to travel two hours to a hospital. Medical Teams had opened an operating room only 15 minutes from her home.

When it was time to deliver, a Medical Teams ambulance drove her to the operating room. Gallas waited outside during the surgery. He was anxious as he remembered the last two births, the two baby boys he had buried. He was afraid that this time he would lose both his wife and his baby.

At last, he got good news. He had a baby girl, and both she and Janet were healthy.

Janet kissing her baby Vanessa, after losing two babies to improper pregnancy care
Janet kisses her baby, Vanessa Asante.

Joy After Tragedy

Janet and Gallas decided to name their daughter Vanessa Asante. “Asante” means “thank you” in Swahili. They gave her that name because they thank God for their healthy baby girl. Their dream of being parents was finally realized after years of tragedy and loss.

Medical Teams nurses cared for Janet as she recovered. They also cared for Vanessa and found that she had a small hernia. Medical Teams will provide the hernia surgery for Vanessa when she is six months old. Now, Janet and Vanessa visit the clinic for vaccinations and check-ups. Janet is hopeful that if she becomes pregnant again, she will deliver a healthy baby with the help of Medical Teams.

As I watched Gallas and Janet with their baby daughter, I felt I was witnessing the deepest love and the purest joy. I thought about how much Janet has suffered. How I’ll never understand the violence she has experienced. And how, despite everything, she is resilient and hopeful.

Gallas, Janet’s husband and Uganda refugee, holding his daughter Vanessa
Gallas and his three-month-old daughter, Vanessa Asante.

I want to thank you. Your support is what helped bring joy to Janet’s life. Because of the compassion of people like you, Janet gets to experience the joys of motherhood she has yearned for – the first smile, the first steps, the first time she hears her name: “Mama.”

Learn how you can help mothers like Janet.