Esther Munyerenkana 2010 CAW Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award Recipient
August 28, 2010
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Esther Munyerenkana 2010 CAW Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award Recipient
dated August 28, 2010
Very respectful Mr. Ken Lewenza, National President of the CAW, ladies and gentlemen, members of the CAW Canada and guests, before beginning my speech, allow me to thank you for your kind invitation to come here to your country and talk to you about our activities at the General Referral Hospital of Panzi in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That is where I work as a social worker with women and girls who are victims of sexual violence. It is a great honour for me to find myself in the midst of such a large crowd for this activity. I thank you once again for having thought of my modest self.
I am a nurse by training, which is why, because of the war waged from 1996 to the present in my country, I left my position as a maternity nurse to share the pain of the women and girls who have been victims of sexual violence by working at the Panzi Hospital in the FFVVS project since 2004. As a Christian member of the Protestant church in the Congo, I am inspired by a passage in the Bible, in John 15:13, that says: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." I often travel deep into the Congo to go and fetch these women and girls in the red zones. We do not go there without risk; on the contrary, it is very dangerous. You've probably heard on the radio and television about the humanitarian workers who have encountered problems in these areas. We even run the risk of being raped ourselves. But does that mean we should leave our mothers and our sisters to continue to rot there, out of fear? Our answer is no, no and no! We have to save what still can be saved despite all this. For more details about our activities, I have a Flash disk with me as well as photos that illustrate what we do for these poor women and girls. I also have here samples of some of the small crafts and activities that we teach them as soon as they leave the hospital and go home, so that they can earn a living.
Also, I can not thank enough our hospital director, Dr. Mukwege Mukengere, and PMU Interlife of Sweden, for their continued and dedicated assistance to our vulnerable mothers and daughters. Thank you. This was written in Bukavu, August 23, 2010, by social worker, Esther Munyerenkana. Thank you. Ok, I think there are some pictures where you can see some moments where, because of the assistance we give them, instead of being sad, the women are dancing and singing. We offer many services and activities.
I'd like to talk to you about what happens when the women arrive at our Panzi Hospital because of the sexual violence they have suffered at the hands of foreign armed groups, the Interahamwe. When they arrive here, they are despondent and dirty, with their clothes all torn and problems filling their head. What we do, when they arrive here, is to welcome them. We welcome them, we note their identity, and we give them a sanitation kit containing everything they need for their hygiene. After that, we direct them to various exams and we refer them to psychologists to check for signs of trauma. After they have seen the psychologists, we give them the opportunity to continue to receive counselling until they leave. Among the stories that they tell us, they constantly mention the violence they have endured. These mothers are raped either by one person, two people or even more. They are raped vaginally, anally. and others are subjected to sexual acts in their mouth. their attackers ejaculate in their mouth and these mothers are told to swallow the sperm that has been released in their mouth. There are mothers who are forced to have sexual intercourse with their father-in-law. with their father-in-law!!! There was one mother who told me when she arrived she was so sad when she arrived, she was crying a lot and I asked her why she was crying. She even wanted to run away from me. "No, it's not possible. It's so horrible, I can't say it. I can't say it!" I spoke to her calmly. I said, "Mother, tell me what is the cause of your suffering?" She said, "Those barbarians forced me to sleep with my father-in-law, and we live in the same village. I want to lock myself away, I want to kill myself." So I said to her, "Mother, calm down. You are not responsible for what has happened to you." So I continued to talk to the mother for a little while and she calmed down. There are also many others who have been raped. of all ages. There are even children ten or even five years old who have been raped, sometimes by two or three people. There was a ten-year-old girl who was raped and afterward they inserted a wooden stick in her vagina. So now, the girl has fistulas, but the doctor told us that they have to wait until she's fifteen to repair the fistulas. There are other mothers who have been raped and afterward had the barrel of a gun inserted in their vagina. So these mothers also have fistulas caused by these objects, whether they're sticks, gun barrels.
For us, it is sometimes very difficult to find the words to comfort these mothers who are suffering so much. Some of them are dragged into the forest, while others see their husbands murdered right in front of their eyes. One mother told me, "When they took us into the forest, I was with my husband and they took him and told him to pray for the last time, because they were going to kill him. Then they took my husband and they slit his throat just like you would a chicken. They threw his body over there and told me to kiss the body of my husband. The blood was spurting all over." So there are all these unspeakable stories and we don't know how to explain them. There are so many horror stories, really I don't know how to tell you! There are also mothers who were dragged into the forest and they became pregnant after being raped. They make these mothers endure unspeakable suffering. And these others don't accept these children. They never accept these children. They say, "No, I'm going to kill the child!" Some of them hit their children in front of us. We say to these mothers, "Don't you see that the child is innocent. The child has no idea of what happened to you. Take him, he's your child." But in some cases, mothers who are raped and get pregnant as a result say, "No, I'm going to get an abortion. I can't give birth. This pregnancy. I don't know who is concerned because I was raped by 10 men! I don't know who the father of this child is. How can I keep this child?!" So what is happening over there in the Congo causes us a great deal of suffering.
We thought that the war might be coming to an end, but we can see that this fighting continues, this violence continues today. There was a mother who came to see us at the hospital. She has children and she was raped, but her husband rejected her. He said, "No, no, no, you're a woman of the Interahamwe, you can't come in my house!" So I left the woman in the hospital, because she said she couldn't go home or her husband would kill her. These women who have been raped have many, many problems, so we offer them counselling, either individually or in groups, to help them. Many of them are able to overcome their trauma, while others suffer from PTSD. So we give these mothers the help we can. But at any rate, most of these women continue to develop psychological problems and we refer them to psychiatrists. We send a psychiatrist to the Panzi Hospital, but there are some women who are sent to Sosame, where they treat people with psychological problems. Because of all this, as social workers, we - or at least me personally - are also extremely affected by the pain of these women and all their problems. At any rate, these are horrible situations. You are only listening to them now, but it would be better to visit the Panzi Hospital. You will see how we share the suffering of these mothers. Sometimes, we are given five or even ten women to work with. because every day. some days we receive as many as thirty new cases.
We have so many problems in my country. Don't keep silent! Don't keep silent! If you have people in high places in your country, you have to talk to them, talk, talk!!! We are suffering enormously. These mothers are poor women, but they help us too. They farm, and after the harvest, they bring the food to the city, because we don't have fields in the city. These poor women are the ones who farm and bring their harvest into the city, where we buy it. We are in such a situation. I don't have the words to explain it. All the prices have gone up, because when the mothers came, they came in large numbers with everything they farmed. But now these mothers hide, because when they go out in the fields, they are raped or taken away into the jungle. So they're too afraid to farm. There are others who are suffering from severe malnutrition because they are lacking in everything. Some are taken in by our CNT [Nutritional Therapy Centre], which takes care of malnourished people. It's full - there are many mothers and children suffering from malnutrition.
Our fathers had livestock - because, as you know, it's the older men who look after the livestock - but they have all been taken away. People have been taken away into the jungle. Others are killed, or buried alive. One woman who came here told me, "Thank God, I escaped. I escaped, but my friends were buried alive when they refused to have sexual intercourse with those men.. I was third, but when the first woman refused, they told her, 'Go stand over there, you'll see what we do to you.' The second woman refused as well. I saw them dig a hole and they buried those women alive." These are the kinds of things that are happening. You may think that they are just stories, but it's the reality! The best thing would be for you to go to the Panzi Hospital one day and to see for yourself. You'll find many women and many girls there who have been raped. It's absolutely horrible. It's sad to talk about these things. That's why I wore this t-shirt. Here, it says, "No, no, no to sexual violence against girls and women." Do you see the writing. There are so many horrible stories about rape in our country. Thank you.
| Ken Lewenza|
Jean Pierre if you could help me here, I will give the award in English and Jean Pierre will give it in French because that will give Esther the respect she deserves.The CAW Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award, in recognition of your struggle, courage, and achievements in advancing human rights and social justice.
CAW Fighting Back Makes A Difference.