Sunday, November 18, 2007

Women left for dead in the Congo

I read the most horrific article in US Glamour this weekend. It was a shocking, enlightening, amazingly well written article entitled 'Women left for dead and the man who's saving them'. It is about Dr. Denis Mukwege, who repairs women who have been the victims of brutal rape in the Congo. A country ravaged by war where rape is being used as a cheap and effective weapon of war. Not only are the women raped but they are raped in a very barbaric way, in front of their children, husbands and neighbours. They are also raped by many men at the same time and their vaginas are mutilated with guns and sticks. Dr. Mukwege says, ‘clearly these rapes are not done to satisfy any sexual desire but to destroy the soul. The whole family and community are broken.’ Below are two extracts from two women’s stories, they brought tears to my eyes.

Alfonsine is thin and poised, profoundly calm. She tells me she was walking through the forest when she encountered a lone soldier. ‘He followed me and then forced me to lie down. He said he would kill me. I struggled with him hard; It went on for a long time. Then he went for his rifle, pressed it on the outside of my vagina and shot his entire cartridge into me. I just heard the voice of bullets. My clothes were glued to me with blood. I passed out.'
Dr. Mukwege tells me, ‘I never saw such destruction. Her colon, bladder, vagina and rectum were basically gone. She had lost her mind. I was sure she wouldn’t make it. I rebuilt her bladder. Sometimes you don’t even know where you are going. There’s no map. I operated on her six times, and then I sent her to Ethiopia so they could heal the incontinence problem, and they did.'
‘I was in bed when I first met Dr. Mukwege’, Alfonsine says. He helped me spiritually. He showed me how many times God makes miracles.’
I look at Alfonsine’s petite body and imagine the scars beneath her humble white clothes. I listen carefully. I cannot detect a drop of bitterness or any desire for revenge. Instead her attention is fixed on transforming the future. She tells me with great pride, ‘I am now studying to be a nurse. My first choice is to work at Panzi. It was the nurses who nurtured me day after day, who loved me back into living. I feel like a big person in my community; I can do something for my people. Women must lead our country. They know the way’.

The next story is Nadine's.

‘I’m 29. I’m from the village of Nindja. Normally there was insecurity in our area, we would hide many nights in the bush. The soldiers found us there. They killed our village chief and his children. We were 50 women. I was with my three children and my older brother; they told him to have sex with me. He refused so they cut his head and he died.’
Nadine’s body is trembling. It is hard to believe that these words are coming out of a woman who is still alive and breathing. She told me how one of the soldiers forced her to drink his urine and eat his feces, how the soldiers killed 10 of her friends and then murdered her children: her four-year-old and two-year-old boys and her one-year-old girl. ‘They flung my baby’s body on the floor like she was garbage. One after another they raped me. From that, my vagina and anus were ripped apart’.
Incredibly, Nadine was the only one of the 50 women to escape. ‘When I got away from the soldiers, there was a man passing. He said, ‘what is that bad smell’? It was me; because of my wounds, I couldn’t control my urine or feces. I explained what had happened. The man wept right there. He and some others brought me to the Panzi hospital’.
She says, ‘when I got here I had no hope. But this hospital has helped me so much. Whenever I thought about what happened, I became mad. I believed I would lose my mind. I asked God to kill me. Dr. Mukwege told me: maybe God didn’t want me to lose my life.’
Nadine later told me the doctor was right. As she fled the slaughter, she says, she saw an infant lying on the ground next to her slain parents. Nadine rescued the girl; now having a girl to care for gives her a reason to keep going.

I was going to write about the impression this article made on me but I don’t think it is necessary. You’ll probably feel exactly the same way when you read this. I read this article at a time where I felt there were some issues in my life but this put them into such perspective. I’m guilty of forgetting how much suffering (and to what extent) is going on in the world around me and this makes me do two things which I’m incredibly ashamed of. I over-indulge myself in my own perceived problems so much so that I forget how amazing my life is, and how blessed I am. Second, I have become passive about what is going on in the world because I'm no longer faced with it on a daily basis. I need to know that I’m doing something to the best of my ability to make a difference in my own way. If you’re anything like me, please make more of an effort to make a difference in the world around you. It doesn’t have to be this cause, just anything that makes this world a slightly better place; there is so much room for improvement.

If you want to help this particular cause, you can:
- Write a letter addressed to His Excellency, the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila Kabange; demand that he take action to stop the attacks on women. Send it to the U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, P.O. Box 3862, New York, NY 10163, and it will be delivered to Kabila.

- Donate money directly to Panzi hospital through Money donated to Panzi also goes to establish a City of Joy, a safe haven for the healed women, where they’ll learn to become political leaders.