Written by April Houston, MSW/MPH, graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis
The women of Congo have had it rough. Their country has been at war for decades, many of them have seen their families and even their bodies badly damaged and torn apart. There’s no shortage of sad stories coming out of the DRC, and from an outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to find cause for hope.
Enter Panzi Hospital.
Panzi Hospital was constructed in 1999, and since then has become famous worldwide for it’s treatment of tens of thousands of sexual violence victims in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Its staff specialize in treating gynecological disorders, specifically those due to reproductive trauma and trauma from sexual violence, also offering clinical physical treatment and psychological counseling for survivors. Dr. Denis Mukwege is the co-founder and medical director of the hospital, but also a tireless advocate for the survivors he treats. Women come through Panzi’s programs strengthened, empowered, and ready to provide for themselves, their families, and to make a positive difference in their communities.
As someone with a passion for international human rights, especially as it relates to women in conflict and post-conflict areas, I thought Panzi Hospital needed to be celebrated. I reached out to my friend Lee Ann De Reus, a professor from Penn State Altoona who co-founded Panzi Foundation USA, an advocacy and US funding outlet for the hospital. We determined my video producing skills could be used to help promote Panzi through a web documentary project, where we showcased the hospital facilities but also interviewed women who had been treated at Panzi and had successfully reintegrated into their communities, giving them an outlet to tell their own stories.
Thanks to more than fifty contributors to a crowdfunding campaign, Lee Ann and I traveled to Bukavu, the capital of the DRC’s South Kivu province in June, 2014, and gathered about ten hours of video. The sorting of footage, translation, writing, and editing took many weeks (delayed many months because of a certain intense experience known as my first year of graduate school), but the final product is now live and features some beautiful stories from Congolese survivors and Panzi Hospital staff, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Denis Mukwege. Please watch and share.