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Horror and Hope at Panzi Hospital
Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo ( Lat: -2.5443 /Long: 28.8677)
Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder, director and chief surgeon of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu.
Doctor Denis Mukwege repairs damaged women, helping each find a little dignity where they had only shame.
The doctor is quick to smile; his tired eyes shine with kindness, but also with anger at the unspeakable things done to the mothers and daughters of his community, tens of thousands of them, by men without conscience. Where they torture and violate, Dr. Mukwege and his staff heal.
iN 2007 alone 3,500 women were treated at Panzi Hospital, located on the outskirts of Bukavu, just down the bumpy road from one of the several UN peacekeeping bases around the city. Most of the women come here with internal wounds, including fistulas, humiliating and painful effects of their violation. The other type of internal damage is psychological, and can last a lifetime. The only good news is that most of the time this physical damage can be fixed with a simple procedure, restoring at least the bodies of the women who come here.
A few dozen women who come here each year cannot be cured, and will live with the damage forever. Most of them will not be welcomed back to their communities, or by their husbands. Doctor Mukwege is undeterred by the enormous challenge of caring for so many- he is working to open a new transit center here at Panzi for these incurable women called the City of Joy; here at least they will be welcomed. "Everyone knows who is responsible for this", he says, "those who are supposed to protect should never be allowed free passage."
We stand up to leave his office and he hands the visitors with us each a small Congolese flag, as a gift.
“Don’t forget the Congo,” he says softly.
As if anyone who has been here & worked here ever could or ever will.
Learn about Panzi Hospital and plans for the City of Joy on Glamour.com,
WARNING: below is sensitive material. DO NOT READ unprepared!
Two weeks ago in Catana, a village 40 kilometers from here, the village was attacked and the women were raped systematically. We have some of the victims and wounded people here in the hospital.
And you said they were raped all night long.
All through the night, yes. From 8:00PM to 5:00AM in the morning. Everybody knows who is doing such things to women, but nobody wants to identify them. They wear distinctive colors when not involved.
Can you describe the usual techniques used by the perpetrators?
There are four techniques used to rape women. The first is that there are three or four or five men who rape a woman at the same time. The second technique is that the women are raped before their husband, their in-laws, their children, the generation to come, even neighbors. The third technique is after having raped the women, they destroy the private parts of the women. They introduce wood, firewood, they even introduce machetes or guns; and this has consequences in the body of the women, and for procreation.
And the fourth technique used to destroy- the young ladies are taken into the bush to become sex slaves.
With all these techniques the family is destroyed- the husband can lose his mind, his temper, the children who are affected can no longer look their father or mother in the eyes because of the shame. It is a curse for the family. The woman herself, she’s psychologically affected and physically affected. She’s now abandoned by everybody; everybody knows she was raped by 4-6 people. There are those who might not have damage to their bodies, but they’re infected by HIV/AIDS.
This is not happening to one woman, but to many women in the village.
I don’t know how to really express the impact of the hurt on the women. When I talk to friends in other countries, they sometimes minimize the facts. They say, “yes, in our country women are also victims of rape.”
But here it is not rape because you have desire for a woman, it’s rape because you want to destroy that person through her private parts.