In my last post, I wondered where the heroes for this generation are. Where are the unsung heroes who saved lives with unselfish acts of courage and wisdom? Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, even men like Schindler, and Valkyrie who risked their own lives to save others? I look at women like Aung Suu Chi, who could not see her beloved husband because she knew she could not fight for her people in Myanmar from afar. I know they are there, countless people who risked their own safety and lives to save the lives of others. I wanted to find those and share their stories here with you; if you know of any heroes and would like to share, please let me know in the comments. I would love to read about them. Perhaps I can write that others may take hope that even amidst the chaos in the world, there are those who care about their fellow man.
This is the story of a man who brings hope to thousands of women who have been tortured, maimed, raped, with many left for dead; Dr. Denis Mukwege who works in the Democratic Republic of Congo to restore the lives and dignity of women who have been tortured and raped as a tool of war. Read on about this wondrous man and the lives he touches.
"The Africa which the world needs is a continent able to stand up, to walk on its own feet...It is an Africa conscious of its own past and able to keep on reinvesting this past into its present and future."
Dr. Denis Mukwege
Together with his colleagues, this wonderful gynecologist has treated close to 30,000 victims of rape and has acquired great proficiency in the handling of severe sexual damages. He tells his story including distressing stories of rape as a weapon of war.
When the war broke out in Eastern DR Congo, 35 of my patients in Lemara were killed in their hospital beds.
Fleeing to Bukavu, 60 miles to the north, I again started a hospital erected from tents. I also built a maternity ward with an operating room. In 1988, war again destroyed everything, so in 1999, I started again.
That first year the first rape victim was brought to the hospital. She had been shot in her genitals and thighs...after being raped. I thought this was a brutal act of war, until three months later, to my shock women came telling the same stories; "People came into my village and raped me, tortured me”
Other women came with genital burns, and said that after they had been raped, they had had chemicals poured on their genitals.
I asked myself what was happening here. These were not only violent acts of war, but also a strategy. There were circumstances where people were raped publicly, all at the same time; sometimes an entire village was raped overnight. By doing this, I could see the victims were not the only ones hurt; the entire community was in anguish as they were forced to watch. The strategy resulted in people forced to flee their villages, desert their fields, their possessions, everything. This is very effective as a strategy in war.
System of Care
We have a system of stages of victim care and before I commence a large operation, we begin with a psychological evaluation. It is important to know if the victim has the strength to go through surgery.
The next stage may be an operation or it may just be medical care. The next stage is socio-economic care. The majority of these patients come to us with nothing, not even clothes. Feeding them, caring for them, and helping them develop new skills; even putting them back into school is the help they need to recover after these tragedies.
The fourth stage is to help them on a legal level. Many times the victims know who their rapists are and with an attorney’s help, their cases are brought to court.
By 2011 we were seeing a decline in the number of cases and our thought was maybe we were coming to an end of the horrible circumstances for women in the Congo. However, since last year, the war has resumed and the cases have increased once again. It is an experience, which can be linked exclusively to the war.
The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not a religious war, nor even a skirmish between states, but a conflict caused by economic interests, with Congolese women bearing the brunt of this war.
The Second Congo War
Thought to be Africa’s most deadly war, it began in 1998 and unambiguously involved eight nations, and 25 armed groups and the battle was the rich natural resources of the Congo. Both the Congolese army and the militia have been accused of the violent rape against the men and women of Africa. Officially ending in 2003, the fighting has still continues in the of DR Congo, and the numbers of have risen dramatically.
(Excerpt) Speech to the UN (Sept 2012)
"I would have liked to also say; 'I have the honor of being part of the international community that you represent here,' but I cannot say that. How can I say this to you - representatives of the international community - when the international community has shown fear and a lack of courage during these 16 years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?"
I was returning home from a trip outside the country when I found five people waiting for me. Four of them had AK-47’s while the fifth held a pistol.
They opened the gate and got into my car and pointed their weapons at me. They forced me out of my car, and one of my guards tried to rescue me but they shot him and killed him. I fell down as my attackers continued to fire their weapons. I have no idea how I survived. They then left my car without taking anything.
It was only later that I found out that my two daughters and their cousin were at home. They were forced into the living room with their attackers were waiting for me. All this time the attackers had their weapons pointed at my daughters. It was terrible.
I only saw my attackers for a few seconds and I could not tell who they were. I also do not know why they attacked me, only they know.
Dr. Mukwege took his family and fled to Sweden and then Brussels, but was persuaded to return to the Congo.
The determination of the Congolese women inspired me to return to fight these atrocities.
These women had the courage to protest about the attack on me to the authorities and they even put their money together to pay for my ticket home. These are women who have nothing; they live on less than a dollar a day.
I myself am determined to fight these atrocities and after this gesture by these Congolese women I could not say no.
“My life has had to change, since returning. I now live at the hospital and I take a number of security precautions, so I have lost some of my freedom”.
When the women welcomed me back, they told me they would make sure I was kept safe by taking turns to guard me. Groups of 20 women volunteer to work in shifts, day and night. They have no weapons they do not have anything. Feeling so close to the people you are working with is a form of security. Their enthusiasm gives me the confidence to continue with my work.
With 350 beds in Denis Mukwege’s hospital, they are often filled with rape victims. Funded by Unicef and other donors, it also runs a mobile clinic and a microfinance initiative.
Dr. Mukwege has received many international awards, including the 2008 UN Human Rights Prize. In 2009 he was named African of the Year.