Panzi Foundation USA raises awareness about the challenges in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, engages in strategic advocacy to end violence against women, and provides grants to Panzi Hospital to heal women and restore lives.
Dr. Denis Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in 1999 as a response to the devastating war that surrounded his community in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a direct outcome of the war, maternal mortality was on the rise, and Dr. Mukwege, a French-trained gynecological surgeon, hoped to improve access to cesarean sections and other obstetric interventions.
His first patient, however, wasn't a mother in labor, but a survivor of rape whose vagina and rectum had been destroyed with a knife.
Dr. Mukwege was appalled, and as the epidemic of sexual violence flared up along with the pace of the war, he dedicated significant hospital resources to treating women with fistula:
"The perpetrators of these crimes destroy life at its entry point. The women can no longer have children. Often they get infected with AIDS and will spread the disease. Their men are humiliated. So the perpetrators destroy the entire social fabric of their enemies, their communities, their future generations, without even killing the woman."
In addition to traumatic fistula (caused by sexual violence), Congolese women are at high risk for obstetric fistula. Many women have been displaced from their homes by war, and give birth in crowded displacement camps or on the dirty floors of untrained birth attendants. Sometimes a woman's labor is obstructed or her perineum tears significantly during delivery. Without prompt medical care, she can develop a hole in her perineum, causing her to leak urine and feces.
A woman with obstetric fistula then finds herself equally as vulnerable as a rape survivor - she may be turned out by her husband and family due to the smell, leaving her unable to properly care and provide for her children.
Panzi Hospital currently has 450 beds, 250 of which are reserved for survivors of sexual violence. Treating fistula often involves numerous delicate surgeries and a prolonged period of recovery.
Caring for the Whole Woman
40% - 60% of the women treated at Panzi Hospital are unable to return home after medical treatment. Many are abandoned by their husbands and rejected by their families and villages due to the stigma associated with rape. Some are displaced due to the destruction of their homes or villages and some have no surviving family members. Others may be unable to live independently due to injuries or illness such as HIV/AIDS.
With no place to go, most attempted to live somewhere in the vicinity of the hospital. They were unable to afford school fees and adequate housing, putting their children in a cycle of vulnerability to continued violence.
Dr. Mukwege could no longer bear to send his patients back to the streets, so he founded Panzi Foundation DRC & Panzi Foundation USA to provide transitional housing and long-term care to the Hospital's patients.
The Foundations' holistic programs include:
- therapeutic counseling,
- job skills training,
- math and literacy classes,
- grants and loans for small businesses, and
- outreach projects to rural communities.
The ultimate goal of the Foundations' programs is to heal the whole woman, her whole family, and her whole community, setting the entire region on a course towards lasting peace.
Seeking justice for survivors
The survivors at Panzi hospital still have hope - and so must we. These women represent the future of a conflict-ridden country. When justice is upheld and their rights respected, they begin to heal and so do their communities. We advocate for an end to sexual violence and impunity; in Congo and worldwide.
“A hundred years ago the [people of Congo] were subject to the worst kinds of torture. Following a great international mobilization, King Leopold II, then owner of the Congo, had to cede this vast territory to the Belgian state and so the population was able to have a comparative respite. Now, the sexual violence inflicted on women is the consequence of a war paid for by certain foreign financiers for whom the sole objective is sordid financial gain. Today, Congolese women, who are victims of sexual violence, reach out to the international community. They need your voice and your support as it was one hundred years ago when helping Congo to get rid off King Leopold. To quote Nelson Mandela, “None of us acting alone can attain success.”
- Dr. Denis Mukwege
What We've Achieved
- Tripled the number of women accessing supportive housing, job skills training and reintegration services at Maison Dorcas;
- Created a successful solar energy pilot at the hospital which will soon provide a self-sustaining energy grid;
- Facilitated the design of future potable water sources for the hospital and surrounding community;
- Enabled an international team of engineers to assess infrastructure needs and create a plan for expansion;
- Initiated the Tumaini (Hope) Project, providing education, life skills training and community outreach to vulnerable women;
- Established the Congo Coffee Project in partnership with Equal Exchange, to support the empowerment of survivors through the sale of fair-trade coffee in the US;
- Upgraded the building, playground, and educational materials at Aire de Jeux, Panzi Hospital’s vital children’s center;
- Developed a product line and distribution channels for survivor-made products sold to international markets for the first time;
- Funded an innovative music therapy program for survivors;
- Provided steel roofs to over 180 women enrolled in the Roofs For Survivors Program.