Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, raged against his community, international NGOs, the government and Congolese men—all of whom in his view do nothing to prevent the atrocities and devastation still being perpetrated on women in Eastern Congo today. “Why is no one standing up to protect the women and children? Where is the instinct to protect? When you are afraid, you are just waiting your turn and nothing will happen. In 10 years the community will not exist.”
Dr. Mukwege has been one of the most outspoken advocates for women in the Congo. He has pleaded at the U.N. for the international community to speak out and recognize what is occurring here. He has been so outspoken that two years ago there was an assassination attempt on his life. Yet he refuses to back down. And here is why. Currently there are 240 women at Panzi that have been raped. They see 10 new rape cases a day. Of the pregnancies that occur as a result of rape, 70 percent of the girls are under 18 years of age.
He also tells us that last month 80 women were raped in the village of Tshelamandi. The hospital was called to treat the women and administer rape kits by a large international NGO. Later, however, the NGO refused to confirm the numbers that Panzi reported. Everyone is afraid of retribution.
But not Dr. Mukwege. Instead of becoming immobilized by fear, he fights back by creating programs that empower the women and the community at large. He has begun a program called “Badilika” (“change” in Swahili) to teach the community how to begin to speak out and stand up to these atrocities. And then there is Maison Dorcas, his dream that is now up and running. In Maison Dorcas, he has created a training and healing center for women survivors and other vulnerable women in the community. There are 600 women in the program. They attend literacy classes while learning marketable skills like sewing, basket weaving, embroidery, bread and soap making. There is a large computer lab and a music therapy class where the women write songs about their newfound strength and record them. I was amazed at the beauty and sophistication of their songs.
Jewish World Watch sponsors this program and today we attended a graduation ceremony. The women received the tools they need to begin their enterprises—a sewing machine, fabric and needles, cooking utensils, etc. As I helped hand out the diplomas, the women grabbed me and hugged me. There was an overwhelming feeling of hope in the room. It was magical.
Madame Zawadi who runs part of the program ended her graduation speech with, “You are graduating. You are the light. We need you to help heal the country. Share what you know. Don’t be discouraged. Continue to stand up.” The women cheered.
If only everyone in Congo could stand up with Dr. Mukwege, Congo would be the country it deserves to be. And if everyone in our country could stand up, what a better world this would be.