During a 2006 trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country ravaged by more than a decade of war, disease and hunger, I met a 12-year-old girl who told me her story of being brutally attacked and raped by four men. When I met her then you could see the mental anguish, fear and shame from the horrific trauma and the lost innocence taken away.
The young girl, who I call 'Hope,' is just one of thousands of girls raped each year in the DRC. The atrocities against women and girls are shameful and must end. This poor girl was so traumatized that when I asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she said she wanted to be a nun. Her answer left a deep impression and I often think of Hope and continue to tell her story as a means of helping bring more awareness and change in that region of the world.
Last month when I returned to the DRC I asked to meet Hope again. When we met, she ran up to me and gave me a big hug. She is a beautiful young girl; however, the pain from her attackers -- both mental and physical -- still haunts her.
An orphan and an only child, Hope was in the care of her grandmother when I met her in 2006. But her grandmother has since passed away and she is now being taken care of by kind women in her community. They give her shelter and food, but there isn't much money so they can't send her to school. She told me that what she most wants now is to go to school.
Hope also tells me she is not feeling well so we make sure she sees a doctor. Before leaving, I asked her again what she wants to be when she grows up. She told me her aim in life is still the same. She wants to be a nun. Her choice speaks volumes about the long-term impact rape has on women and girls.
In the DRC, particularly throughout the eastern provinces, the horrific stories of rape, violence and senseless killings are all too common. Rape is used as a vicious weapon of war in an attempt to demoralize, destroy and tear communities apart.
UNICEF, along with our many international partners, is helping bring more awareness and much needed assistance to the region. Our collective goal is to end these atrocities that occur daily and to ensure young girls like Hope can live productive lives.
Ann Veneman recently returned from a tour of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country ravaged by disease, conflict and violence. Veneman chronicled her personal stories for Huffington Post and in the coming weeks will share what she saw in the hope of bringing more international awareness and attention to the crisis facing this devastated region of the world. To learn more go to www.unicef.org.