History of War

•04/28/2011 • Leave a Comment

Map of Congo. Notice Bukavu, the location of Panzi Hospital.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most resource-rich nations in the world. According to the CIA World Factbook, Congo produces highly valued national resources such as diamonds, gold and petroleum. It also grows coffee, rubber, cotton, cocoa, sugar, tea and several other food crops in its rich soil. Although, this surplus of resources has come to be part of the problem. Lacking infrastructure and any solid government, the people of Congo have not profited from their vast resource pool.

According to the CIA World Factbook’s entry on Congo, in so many words:

Congo began shaping its tumultuous identity as a Belgian colony named the Congo Free State in 1885. When government in Belgium changed, Congo’s name changed to the Belgian Congo. Then, 53 years later in 1960, the colony was granted independence.

The biggest trouble, however, began in 1994. At the time, Congo was called Zaire.

A large genocide from the neighboring country of Rwanda began to spill over into Eastern Zaire. Hutu militia forces who were forced out of Rwanda by the rivaling Tutsi tribe fled across the border and began to use the neutral country as a military base. Two years later, Rwandan troops flooded into Eastern Zaire to oust the rebel Hutu forces.

In the same year, the current leader Joseph Mobutu was forced to flee the country and a new leader took over: Laurent-Desire Kabila. He declared himself president in 1997 and changed the country’s name to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Only days after, Rwandan troops attacked the country once more, meaning to overthrow Kabila.

Although Congo and its allies were able to stop the overthrow, the brutal army retreated to eastern Congo. Today, rebel armies who adhere to no moral codes or laws still ravage villages in the east.

Their chief weapon is not guns, but sexual warfare. 

Hundreds of thousands of women have reported being raped by armed men in Eastern Congo since the invasion of Hutu militias. Being the furthest point from the nation’s government capital, Kaliba’s administration, the current governing body, is unable to intervene.

The sexual warfare is systematic. Most women who are raped in Congo suffer from disease, intense physical damage, estrangement from family, or pregnancy. Many women suffer from more than one of these and many women are raped more than once by men in uniform.

Congo. Photo by James Nachtwey, war photographer.

The men do not discern; they will rape infants, elderly women, and every age in between. They will murder families and burn towns to the ground. Many of them inflict these atrocities without cause. They are simply raping to dominate, to conquer.

Many women are treated at Panzi Hospital in an eastern city named Bukavu, but many others never even report the sexual crimes inflicted upon them, or die before they can be helped. The hospital has treated more than 24,000 women and more are pouring in each day.

The large-scale, chaotic warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the deadliest war since World War II. It’s estimated that 45,000 people are still dying every month as a result of the war.

Organizations such as the Panzi Hospital, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and V-Day are on site in eastern Congo attempting to educate, rebuild and sort through the mass amounts of physical and emotional destruction left by rebel militias for the past decade.

Personal Thoughts

In the past month, I’ve spent a lot of time exposing myself to this tragedy of a country. Each video I watch is sadder than the next and I find myself shaking with tears running down my face at the end of each one. Even writing my thoughts about it now is hard and emotional and leaves me feeling a bit useless. I want to help. But out of all the videos, one hit me the hardest.  The young man featured  in the video was one of the soldiers who degraded, destroyed and defiled so many of my beautiful sisters. As much as I wanted to hate him, I realize that the women aren’t the only ones suffering in this war. Although this man will never come close to feeling the level of pain and humiliation that he has inflicted, he gives me hope. The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative is talking to the men and V-Day is comforting the women and I believe that’s how it should be. If this young man has the courage and humility to speak to others about what he has done in order to prevent fellow men from making the same mistakes, then maybe there is hope. Maybe there is hope after all.


V-Day and Unicef’s DRC Female Empowerment Campaign: “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource”

•04/26/2011 • Leave a Comment

In order to bring awareness to the rape crisis in Congo and relief to the survivors, Eve Ensler’s V-Day Campaign partnered with UNICEF in 2007 to bring a large-scale female empowerment campaign in the DRC. 

     According to drc.v-day.org, crowned “Vagina Lady” Eve Ensler’s began to focus on the crisis in Congo in 2006. Ensler interviewed Dr. Denis Mukwege, a highly active Congolese gynocologist who has helped more than 25,000 women since the start of the war in

City of Joy founders: Ensler, Mukwege and Christine Schuler-Deschryver. Photo by Paula Allen

eastern Congo. After the interview and a trip back to Congo in 2007, Ensler was compelled to begin a women’s empowerment campaign in Congo.

The largest effort put forth by this campaign in the City of Joy, the construction of a community for survivors of sexual warfare. The

City of Joy is located in central Congo in Bukavu and it was opened in February 2011. The V-Day website details the purpose and goals for the City of Joy as follows:

“Through its groundbreaking model, the City of Joy will provide up to 180 women a year with an opportunity to benefit from: group therapy; storytelling; dance; theater; self-defense; comprehensive sexuality education (covering

HIV/AIDS, family planning); ecology and horticulture; and economic empowerment.”


The center took a year longer to build than originally expected and cost around $1 million. Nevertheless, some of the victims themselves helped to build the City of Joy. Ensler has been actively involved in the conception, construction and actualization of the safe community in the middle of the war-torn country. The City of Joy is bringing a long-awaited sense of hope to eastern Congolese women and families.

A New York Times article quoted Stephen Lewis whose private organization has offered help to the campaign: “There’s been growing international concern about what’s happening in Congo, but up until now that hasn’t amounted to anything on the ground. Maybe this is the moment where women on the ground show they can turn this around.”

Ensler was deeply inspired to begin the campaign because of Dr. Denis Mukwege. The City of Joy effort has worked closely with Panzi Hospital, also located in Bukavu– the health center Mukwege founded to aid victims of the rape crisis. The Panzi Hospital website

Mukwege (right) and survivors. Photo by Paula Allen.

states that more than 25,000 women have been treated there between 1999 and 2010, “many of them severe cases of reproductive trauma or trauma from sexual violence.” It also says nearly 6,000 operations have been performed there, 2,551 of them repairing vaginas so destroyed that waste pours freely from them.

In 2008, Mukwege won the first “African of the Year” award, which granted $20,000 from the Daily Trust, a Nigerian newspaper. Mukwege said he planned to use the money to help fund the City of Joy and said in his acceptance speech: “I am pleased to accept this award if it will highlight the situation of women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.”

As a result of the V-Day empowerment campaign, women in Congo are finally beginning to break down the taboos, speak out about their rapes, and begin healing the emotional scars. The campaign has called more international attention to the issue. You can read the full version of the V-Day Survivor’s Call to action at http://drc.vday.org/survivors-call.

Personal Thoughts

The V-Day campaign and utter devotion put forth by Ensler and Mukwege is inspiring and it gives me hope for Congo. I could not have imagined a better way to empower women who have suffered such unspeakable and devastating atrocities.

I am humbled by the survivors who dance and rejoice in life. They are such strong women. They are inspiring. Photo by Paula Allen.

Sadly, though, all I can think about is how this $1 million community wasn’t even fully funded by UNICEF. They had to get private investors to fill in the financial holes. This is upsetting when just a week ago, I read a Cleveland Zoo newsletter that boasted an anonymous $1 million donation to the African animal exhibit. The irony and sadness of this hits me and I realize it’s all about communication. It’s easier to fund a local zoo exhibit than to send money to a far-away land where people you will never meet are suffering.

I feel like the only people who care about the issues in Congo are the scholars and the investigative journalists. We only know what the media tells us about and I find that really sad and also a failure on the part of the media. I only know about this issue because of Eve Ensler. I’m ashamed that this has been going on my whole life and I’ve only know started researching it. 

And I think– surely people would support this cause if they really knew. As a broke college student, I’m all but useless in the way of financial aid. I feel even more useless sitting in my dorm room listening to the testimonies of these women overcome with complete sorrow followed by some glimmers of hope. I want to help them; I want to care for them. 

And that’s why I admire Ensler above all. She saw this happening and actually did something. And she’s making a positive difference in a world of negativity.