A Visit to Panzi Hospital

Panzi Hospital is probably the most well-known hospital in all of DR Congo. It’s gained a great deal of attention due to the fact that they have a section which is devoted to treating cases of sexual violence.
Attention was really thrust upon the hospital by a special report on CNN in 2006, then Eve Ensler of “The Vagina Monologues” fame, and then Oprah. What has thusly ensued and is fueled by seemingly good intentions has been a media blitz the likes of which is preposterous. The issue of sexual violence is currently one of the “sexy” issues in the eastern regions of Congo. It’s sexiness is due to its brutality and the fact that it makes for news story that leave western mouths agape.
To back up a bit, the regions of eastern DR Congo have been in the midst of a multi-national war that has scarred the Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu regions for the past decade starting in 1998 and officially ending in 2003, although a great number of skirmishes still flare up and there are large numbers of rebels still in the jungles. Rather than attempting to sum up (and probably quote incorrectly), those who are interested should read more about what has been termed, the African World War.
Most of the results of the war were typical and quickly glossed over by western media once western interest waned. Land mines? Sure, they exist, but that’s so WWII. Death? Sure, about 5.4 million people they estimate, but hey, that’s just war. Displacement? Of course, but that can happen anywhere and without war as was seen in New Orleans, so that’s super boring. Rape? Well, now we’re starting to get somewhere, since rape isn’t something we like to think happens in the western world and can be easily juxtaposed on Africa as a problem inherent to the “Dark Continent”. Sexual violence? Ah yes, pay dirt. The more brutally and horrendous the violence done to women and girls, the better. That is sordid news and it makes for the kind of print runs that leave the rest of the world shaking their heads in disbelief. A disbelief I might add, that is prejudicial. Yes, these events occurred. No one would ever want to belittle what has happened to the people in this area, but to posit the reporting in such a way as to paint the Africans in the countries involved as being anymore brutal than any other humans in the history of warfare is just pathetic, lazy journalism. For a brilliant take on this point and the excessive abuse of hyperbole, Michela Wrong (whose writing is simply some of the finest there is) wrote an article about her frustrations in how journalists are dealing with the situation in eastern Congo.
While all these media coverage has generated a good deal of funding directed to the hospital, much of the money doesn’t get there, as it is tied up in bureaucracy like the UNFPA which seems to only exist to fund staff and offices who then disseminate money to organizations that actually are hands-on. But as far as hospitals go in Congo, this is one of the better ones with people receiving treatment and getting help. Obviously there is more demand that there is space, but this will hopefully improve with time. Something that would help to improve it is journalists covering other hospitals in the regions, which while not the media darlings that Panzi is, are doing much the same work, yet without the recognition. And this is a big problem. Western people don’t understand what’s happening in Congo and so they figure that just throwing money at the issue will make it better. While it may make them feel good about themselves and less guilty about the good lives we lead in the US and Europe it isn’t fixing the problems.
We need journalist that actually go out and do their jobs instead of just nuzzling the easy headlines. I mean, there was a German journalist from Focus magazine there the day we were. When asked if they had an angle or if was just a reportage, the photographer told me it was just a reportage and he actually felt good about this. Panzi is flooded with people reporting on a story that has been done to death, so why does it keep happening? We talked with Dr. Denis Mukwege and the man is tired of journalists coming day in, day out for reports that interrupt his work and then don’t translate in to action. It’s what I like to call the “Israel Syndrome” wherein journalists get their hooks in to a place that’s easy to cover and gets a lot of attention from their viewers/readers. Thusly they keep going back there time and again whenever a “tough” piece is needed.
As citizens in our respective countries, we need to have awareness to start with and then effective action to follow. Sensationalist blather like Lisa Jackson’s The Greatest Silence get all kinds of media attention, while films that actually tell the stories of the victims, such as Lumo (which wasn’t shot at Panzi) get overlooked. And while I would suggest that direct aid is the best place to put your money, I wouldn’t suggest that Westerners should head to Bukavu or Goma and attempt to save the helpless, no matter how grand their delusions. People need to be aware of where their money is going. Just blindly donating to the Red Cross or agencies such as UNFPA does little good as you don’t really know where your money is going. For god’s sake, read up and learn about the agencies that operate in places like Congo. The information is out there. Make use off all the benefits of the web and be an educated donor, not one of Oprah’s blind followers. That is of more help to Panzi and the other hospitals at the moment than anything else, because the source of the suffering and sexual violence comes from the foreign policies of our governments and if we really and truly want to end it, we need to pressure the people in charge not just slap a bandage on bad politics.
A Visit to Panzi Hospital

2 Replies to “A Visit to Panzi Hospital”

  1. I am an American woman Missionary Nurse with A Pentocostal Church in Tanzania…but my heart has always had a burden for DR Congo. Can i go to this Hospital to help there.??

  2. Well, just dropping in is not recommended. Long term visas take a bit to get for DRC and the border crossing for muzungu is tricky if not attached to a larger organization. Also, they have a great deal of support already through the massive media attention they receive. A friend of a friend who was living in Bukavu was an MD and only ended up working on records for the most part when volunteering.
    You should really ask yourself what you hope to help them with by going there and also, do you speak French? If not, you’re going to be quite a burden. While there are some English speakers here and there, French is by far the much more common language.

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