Christmas jumper day for the Panzi Hospital

image1 (2)-1Last Friday my colleagues and I donned our Christmas jumpers for charity. I wanted the money to go to a smaller charity which is close to my heart – the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DRC has been devastated by war and an epidemic of sexual violence for the past 20 years. In 1999 Dr Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital and has since treated over 19,000 women (and often child) survivors of sexual violence. After the survivors have been treated they receive care and are provided shelter, counselling and training in maths, literacy and entrepreneurship. They also receive training in basket weaving, soap making and embroidery.

Dr Denis Mukwege

Dr Denis Mukwege

These services are crucial as up to 60% of the women treated are unable to return home after treatment – most are abandoned by their husbands and families due to the stigma attached to rape.

Ross Kemp meets Dr Mukwege at the Panzi Hospital

I got in contact with the hospital to get an overview of the percentage of a donation that actually goes to helping the survivors, and for every £1 given, 90 pence of it goes towards the hospital treatment and after care. Only 10p goes on admin fees, which is is fantastic compared to a lot of the big charities out there.

We made £50 for the hospital and I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of my colleagues who took part.

If you would like to make a donation to the Panzi Hospital, please click here.

Celebrating heroes: Angelina Jolie

Nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others

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Angelina Jolie in Chad, Africa ©Per-Anders Pettersson

It was International Women’s Day recently and it got me thinking about the inspirational women around the world. Malala Yousafzai, Angelique Namaika, Bogaletch Gebre, Edna Adan, Dafroza Gauthier…. women who you may not have heard of, probably because the don’t get much attention in the press and if there is an article about them it’s usually tucked away somewhere.

We unfortunately live in a celeb obsessed culture where people can become famous for doing nothing of value. Instead of promoting good role models we’re bombarded with selfies of skinny, ‘perfect’ looking celebs and taught that beauty is only skin deep.

There’s one ‘celebrity’ though that puts her money where her mouth is, using her insane amount of fame to make a big difference in this world.

Most people probably don’t know a lot about Angelina Jolie’s other life. The majority of what we read about her is the tabloid fodder about ‘Brangelina’. With this article I want to highlight the stuff we should be reading about and the stuff we should know her for.

It’s probably unfair to call her a celebrity because as well as being an Oscar-winning film star and mother she is also a humanitarian – in fact she spends more of her time devoting it to others, giving a voice to the voiceless, than she does to making films.

©Per-anders Pettersson

Angelina Jolie in Chad, Africa ©Per-Anders Pettersson

She has worked for the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) for over ten years now, working tirelessly to highlight the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in over 30 countries including Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Somalia and Thailand. On all of her field missions over the years she has covered all of her costs and shares the same working and living conditions as the UNHCR field staff.

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Her inspiration came from her own mother Marcheline Bertrand, a woman who never had an unkind word to say to or about anyone. On International Women’s Day in 2003, Bertrand produced a benefit concert for Afghan women refugees in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of which Jolie is now a Special Envoy. Sadly, Bertrand died in 2007.

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Jolie and her mother Marcheline

Jolie says about her mother that “she was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others. I didn’t know what that meant for a long time,” she said. “I came into this business young and worried about my own experiences and my own pain. And it was only when I began to travel and look and live beyond my home that I understood my responsibility to others.” In November last year Jolie was awarded an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt award, for her humanitarian work.

Jolie’s acceptance speech

Here are some of the many reasons she’s an inspiration:

She puts her life on the line for those in need

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On a recent trip to Afghanistan she revealed that she had written a farewell letter to Brad Pitt after being warned she was a target for attack.

She explained: ‘I had moments where I’ve been in a house and people have pounded on the doors and screamed at you and said, “We know she’s in there and we want her passport,” and I’ve had moments recently when I went to Afghanistan, and I’ve got off the plane thinking, this is fine.’

‘And then I got there and they said, “The people are very angry with you. They are angry that you are a woman and you are American and you are with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), so you are the target”.

‘And so they gave me a briefing and they said everybody needs to write their blood type down.’

She added: ‘There’s a guy outside with a bulletproof vest, he put his passport in the vest, because he would be the one to take me out. I wrote a note to Brad in the process and figured if anything happens he’ll find it.

‘I was fine, but then two weeks later they did attack the UN and they killed everybody in the bunker.’

Angelina has set up and financed many charity organisations
Jolie in Ecuador ©Gettyimages

Jolie in Ecuador ©Gettyimages

In 2003, she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (after her first son, Maddox, who she adopted from Cambodia) which is dedicated to community development and environmental conservation in Cambodia.

In 2007 Jolie joined forces with economist Dr. Gene Sperling, Director of The Centre for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations, and founded the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which funds education for children affected by man-made or natural disasters. Of the partnership Jolie said “Education can make the difference between whether children of conflict can turn to violence and despair, or whether they become the can be the new leaders of a better future for their families and nations.”

In 2008, she worked with Microsoft to set up the Kids in Need of Defense, a group of law firms and volunteers who have committed to giving legal counsel for immigrant kids in the US.

She spends millions of dollars of her own money helping others

Both Angelina and Brad dig deep when it comes to charity, with the pair donating millions and millions of their own money each year. Records from 2008 show the couple gave over $8m to charitable causes and in 2009 they gave at least $7m.

Jolie and Pitt in Bosnia

Jolie and Pitt in Bosnia

When Brad and Angelina’s twins, Knox and Vivienne, were born the couple sold the first images of the babies to People and Hello! for $14 million, using the entire amount to help fund the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

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Last year Jolie announced that she had opened an all-girls primary school outside of war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. The school educates between 200 and 300 Afghan girls, many of them refugees whose homes and villages have been destroyed in the years since the Taliban regime came to power. But now that the Taliban’s stronghold over the country has collapsed, people are hoping to resume normal life. Getting kids back to school every day is one way to do just that.
Jolie in Afghanistan

Jolie in Afghanistan ©Marco Di Lauro

To fund this venture, Jolie has released a personal jewellery collection, designed alongside jeweller Robert Procop, through Kansas City-based, high-end jewelry shop, Tivol. The collection is called Style of Jolie and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to her foundation, The Education Partnership for Children of Conflict.

jolie_Tivol_jpg_330x330_q85“Beyond enjoying the artistic satisfaction of designing these jewels, we are inspired by knowing our work is also serving the mutual goal of providing for children in need,” Jolie said.

“We launched this collaborative collection with the intent that 100 percent of the profits will go to charity,” Jolie’s long-time designing partner Procop said. “The beauty of these creations is matched by the beauty of spirit behind Angelina’s most heartfelt mission — to empower children in crisis.”

“Tivol, with their historic reputation and dedication to family values is a wonderful retail partner to launch our collection in the U.S.,” Jolie added.

If this business model proves successful, Jolie and Pitt, hope to fund more schools and educational initiatives in the places that need them most.

She uses film to educate about the horrors of war
Angelina Jolie directing on the set of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war in Bosnia. ©Dean Semler/FilmDistrict and GK Films

Angelina Jolie directing on the set of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war in Bosnia. ©Dean Semler/FilmDistrict and GK Films

Angelina used her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, to highlight the horrors of the war in Bosnia. The war lasted from 1992 to 1995 and around 100,000 people were killed with up to 50,000 women being raped and 2.2 million people displaced.

Jolie and some of the cast of the film received threats due to making the film. At the movie’s premiere in Sarajevo, she said: ‘There were things sent to me, there were things posted online. The cast have never complained to me about these threats but I’ve heard through other people it was happening. One of them did have their windows smashed in on their cars and someone else had an issue when their phone was hacked and emails were sent out saying they were from them and saying they had been hurt.’

She gets involved in politics – and not in a bad way

Recently Angelina joined forces with William Hague to raise awareness about the use of rape as a weapon of war in conflicts. Hague had watched In the Land of Blood and Honey at the urging of his senior special adviser, Arminka Helic, a Bosnian who fled to the U.K. in 1992 to earn a Ph.D. Hague was struck by the power of the film. “I started this campaign with Angelina Jolie because foreign policy has got to be about more than just dealing with urgent crises—it has to be about improving the condition of humanity,” he said.

Jolie and Hague at the G8 in London

Jolie and Hague at the G8 in London

In Rwanda, up to 500,000 people were raped during the genocide 20 years ago. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Jolie and Hague visited a year ago as part of their campaign, there an estimated 200,000 surviving rape victims and the issue is still ongoing – it has in fact been called the ‘rape capital of the world’ and in 2011 it was estimated that around 1,000 women a day were raped. In Syria today there are thought to have been countless rapes but there are no approximate figures for this due to the taboo surrounding rape for Muslim women. Many do not report it or even tell their husbands or family.

They were recently at the G8 in London to talk about the £23million pledged towards tackling sexual violence in conflict zones around the world.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Their campaign, called the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), aims to end the shame that victims feel as well as the impunity that often follows such crimes.

At the end of last month they visited Bosnia where they to raise the awareness of the scale of rape during conflict. About 50,000 women, mostly Muslim, were raped during Bosnia’s inter-ethnic war in the 1990s and so far only 33 people have been convicted for the crimes by local courts and 30 by a UN war crimes tribunal ate the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Between 10 – 13th June, Hague and Jolie will host a four-day summit in London that will bring together governments from 141 countries. They aim to create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and promote practical action that impacts those on the ground (peacekeepers, police and the justice system).

Hague said that today “sexual violence is used deliberately as a weapon of war” in the conflicts in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan. He said: “I hope we can all work together to prevent the horrors seen in this region from being repeated in future conflicts anywhere in the world.”

She gives a voice to the voiceless

On World Refugee Day in June last year, Jolie did a report for CNN to bring to the attention the plight of the thousands of Syrian refugees. For many, being a refugee is like being in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, for you don’t know how long. Children in the camp suffer from diarrhoea, respiratory infections, high fever, ear infections and skin diseases, due to poor sanitation and hygiene. In winter the camps are constantly flooded due to rain and snow and in the summer the temperatures regularly top 100°F making living conditions in the dusty camp unbearable. Jolie yet again used her considerable fame to bring attention to a worthy cause.

She wrote about her double mastectomy in the hope that other women would benefit from her decision.

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When Jolie discovered she had the BRCA1 faulty gene, giving her an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer, she took the brave decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. She wrote a moving op-ed piece for the New York Times about her decision in the hope that other women would benefit from her experience.

Brad Pitt said of his fiancé – ‘She’s faced her problems head on and found out her options to make the smartest decision for her, and she’s shared that knowledge with everyone else.

‘It’s important that this testing is not available for everyone and it should be, and that there are surgical options and everyone should have these options.’

‘I always want her by my side. Life will go on and we’re taking care of business as usual. We’re on the other side of that.

‘It’s the bravest thing and I get a little emotional about the act she did for our family and telling her story to others. She’s a very special woman.’

Angelique Namaika: The humanitarian nun who dedicates her life to helping women in need

Angelique Namaika: The humanitarian nun who dedicates her life to helping women in need

When Angelique Namaika was a child she became so sick that she almost didn’t survive, but what followed was a happy childhood, one in which she was very close to her parents, giving her a good foundation for helping those … Continue reading

Angelina Jolie and William Hague reunite at the G8 in London to fight rape in war zones #TIMETOACT

Foreign Ministers Gather In London For G8 Meeting

Angelina Jolie and William Hague at the G8 in London today

The G8 today pledged £23million towards tackling sexual violence in conflict zones around the world. The Foreign Secretary William Hague said that part of the funding would go into training the military to respond to conflict sexual violence and that the training would be extended to peacekeeping groups of other nations. Members of armed forces are often the first to come into contact with survivors and it is hoped that they could have an important role to play in helping to change male attitudes.

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In his speech at Lancaster House in London today, Hague said:

“We know that tens of thousands of women were raped in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands in Rwanda’s genocide, and up to a quarter of a million in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the last decade. We know that a huge number of the victims of sexual violence are children: often very young children and sometimes babies.

“We know that this violence inflicts unimaginable suffering, destroys families and communities, and fuels conflict.Yet the overwhelming majority of survivors never see any justice for what they have endured. And there has never been any concerted international effort, supported by leading nations of the world, to eradicate sexual violence in conflict in the first place. This has to change. To my mind, this cause is the slave trade of our generation.”

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Angelina Jolie added:

“Time and again the world has failed to prevent this abuse, or to hold attackers accountable.

“Rape has been treated as something that simply happens in war; perpetrators have learnt that they can get away with it; and victims have been denied justice. But wartime rape is not inevitable. This violence can be prevented, and it must be confronted.

“There are many individuals and NGOs who have worked tirelessly to address these crimes for years. But the international political will has been sorely lacking. I have heard survivors of rape from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo say that they feel the world simply does not care about them. And who could blame them?

“For too long they have been the forgotten victims of war: responsible for none of the harm, but bearing the worst of the pain. But today, I believe, their voices have been heard, and that we finally have some hope to offer them.”

I took some time to read other articles covering this story today and was appalled by some of the negative comments made online about William Hague and Angelina Jolie.

Many were criticising Jolie due to her star status, asking what it has to do with her, probably due to a lack of awareness about the work she has been doing for the UN for over ten years. She has worked as an ambassador and now Special Envoy for the UNHCR, bringing attention to the plight of millions of refugees around the world (not to mention the millions of dollars she has donated to other good causes and countless hours of her time).

Miss Jolie and Mr Hague have been working on their sexual violence initiative for almost a year now and have already put in place a 70-strong specialist team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts to help survivors and witnesses. They have met three times in London and visited survivors of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda last month.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo last month

I saw a lot of criticism of William Hague for putting up £10million of the £23million fund – but I would guess this is down to the fact that the UK put forward the initiative and are also president of the G8 for 2013.

To me the amount of money is irrelevant and probably equates to pennies out of the tax payers pocket – we are all human beings, where we are born is down to luck. If you had been born in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the threat of rape and violence on a daily basis would you not hope that someone somewhere would take notice and try to help you?

Unless we put ourselves in other people’s shoes we can never fully understand how terrifying life could be. Thanks to an accident of birth most of us will never have to go through what these women, children and babies go through and I’m so pleased to see Angelina Jolie and William Hague standing up for those who might otherwise not have a voice.

For Further Information:

Read the G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict

Find out more about the G8 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting

Read more about the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative

View the FCO’s Storify covering the G8 foreign Ministers’ Meeting

More information on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative at our tumblr

Find out more about the UK’s work to support women and girls around the world

Follow on twitter @FCOhumanrights or follow the hashtags #timetoact, #sexualviolence, #conflict and #G8UK

#TIMETOACT

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Charity Profile: Women for Women International

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Today I would like to blog about a charity called Women for Women International that helps women survivors of war and civil conflicts rebuild their lives.

It works in eight different countries around the world including Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Kosovo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a strong believer and supporter of women’s empowerment, Women for Women provides financial aid, job training, rights awareness and leadership education to women in communities destroyed by violence.

I first came to hear about Women for Women International when researching the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I came across WfWI and was impressed at how women enrolled in their programme are connected to a global network of sponsors who provide monthly financial assistance and emotional support.

I believe that the empowerment and involvement of women should be at the centre of development and peace negotiation strategies. And so, I would like to invite you all to get involved and raise awareness about the rights of women worldwide. You can read the report on Gender, Conflict and Millennium Development Goals or any of the other publications sponsored by Women for Women.

And so, if you want to read more about Women for Women International UK you can visit their page or you can also check out their blog.

Please also consider donating to the charity or getting involved, it doesn’t matter how big or small your donation is or how much time you can dedicate to the cause, every little bit counts!

You can follow Women for Women on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/womenforwomenUK

WFWI

Angelina Jolie and William Hague visit survivors of sexual violence in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday ©AFP

Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday to meet survivors of sexual violence as part of their campaign to tackle rape in war zones.

The number of women, girls, men and boys who have been subjected to rape in conflict zones numbers in the hundreds of thousands. 50,000 were raped in Bosnia, 64,000 in Sierra Leone, 200,000 in Congo and 400,000 in Rwanda. The UN has estimated that only 30 convictions have resulted from the Bosnian War.

Jolie and Hague spent time at the Nzolo Internally Displaced Persons camp, north of Goma and the Lac Vert camp on the edge of Goma. Their next stop is Rwanda.

The aim of the trip is to force the Group of Eight world powers to address the issue more seriously and the Foreign Secretary has said he will make the issue his priority when he hosts the annual meeting of G8 foreign ministers next month in London.

Hague has already put in place a 70-strong specialist team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts to help survivors and witnesses and has also contributed £1 million this financial year to support the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Angelina Joile and William Hague in the DRC ©Telegraph

Angelina Joile and William Hague in the DRC ©Telegraph

“More often than not the international community looks away, the perpetrators of these brutal crimes walk free and the cycle of injustice and conflict is repeated. We have to shatter this culture of impunity,” Hague said. “It is time for real, meaningful action by the governments of the world to say that the use of rape as a weapon of war is unacceptable, to bring perpetrators to justice and to lift the stigma from survivors. This is my personal priority for the meeting of G8 foreign ministers.”

Jolie said on the trip: “This visit is about hearing first hand from people who have endured rape and sexual violence during the conflict in the eastern DRC. We want to learn the lessons that their experience holds for how the world can protect thousands of women, men and children at risk of rape in many other conflict zones. And we want to persuade governments around the world to give this issue the attention it deserves. Unless the world acts, we will always be reacting to atrocities, treating survivors rather than preventing rape in the first place.”

“It’s often that we speak about the drama and the pain and the horrors of the Congo but it’s also a wonderful place with extraordinary people. The big message is that this initiative started by the Foreign Secretary is extraordinary, but what we’re here to do is to try to scale it up and make this a worldwide focus. It’s been going on in every war, every crisis and it’s often an afterthought – and it’s due time to end this, and put an end to impunity, and they deserve it.”

Eleven African countries sign peace deal to stabilise the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week to oversee the signing of a UN peace deal that would put forth the interests of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The deal aims to bring stability to the troubled region where for many years it has suffered persistent violence by armed rebel groups that use rape as a weapon of war. 800,000 people have been displaced since May last year when the rebel M23 group took up arms against the Congolese government.

©Tim Freccia/EPA

M23 rebels in Goma, eastern DR Congo ©Tim Freccia/EPA

The eleven African nations including the DR Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Angola, South Sudan, Tanzania and South Africa signed the accord which Mr Ban said he hoped would bring “an era of peace and stability” to the region. The agreement may also lead to the establishment of a special UN intervention brigade in the east of the country, where the main trouble is.

The DR Congo has a long history of conflict with the majority of the focus being the country’s mineral wealth. Surrounding countries, Congolese armed groups and some even say, the government, have all profited from the riches made from gold and other minerals with little to nothing being spent on the infrastructure of the country.

Ban Ki-moon with the eleven African leaders at the signing.

Ban Ki-moon with African leaders at the signing.

The president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was present at the signing. He said, “A heavy burden of responsibility falls on the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours. Theirs is the historic task of freeing the people of the DRC and the region from tortuous history of conflict and instability, and to introduce a new future offering democracy, peace, stability progress and prosperity.”

Conflict Gold in the Democratic Republic of Congo

We’ve all heard of blood diamonds haven’t we? They were mined out of Sierra Leone in the late 1990s and traded with Liberian leader Charles Taylor for weapons that would prolong a devastating civil war which left thousands of people dead or maimed for life. Now the issue of conflict gold is being highlighted by the Enough Project who have reported that £388 million worth of gold is smuggled out of the Democratic Republic of Congo every year.

This makes the Democratic Republic Congo, which is two-thirds the size of Western Europe, sound like a rich country, but it is in fact the poorest country on earth, with people making an average wage of £225 per year, which equates to around £19 a month.

©bbc

©bbc

So how can it be the least developed country in the world with such a lucrative mineral you might ask? Well the root of the problem lies in the decade long Second Congo War, the deadliest conflict since World War Two, where over 5.4 million people died. When the war ended in 2008 it left the country in a mess with many armed rebel groups using mass rape and violence to control the country’s mines and trading routes.

There are many valuable minerals in the DR Congo but none more so than gold which can be smuggled out of the country in small quantities for large profits. The armed groups split the profits with corrupt government officials ensuring the people of the DR Congo are left with nothing.

Conflict gold mined at one of the 15 major mines across eastern Congo follows six steps in a supply chain until it reaches its final form—gold bars or jewellery. Cleaning up the trade in conflict gold is essential to finding a lasting solution to the ongoing war.

Here is the story of how conflict gold ends up in our jewellery shops:

©enoughproject

©enoughproject

Making the world a better place: The man who rebuilds the lives of women and children in the rape capital of the world

Dr Denis Mukwege at the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern DR Congo © Endre Vestvik http://flic.kr/p/v6Lkh

When Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his ‘extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples’, he had been inaugurated less than two weeks before the 1 February nomination deadline. Many thought this premature, especially as he was up against Columbia’s ‘woman of peace’ and the father of Chinese democracy, but one man stood out on the nominee list for me, a man whose selfless commitment for the last 14 years has ensured that thousands of women have been able to rebuild their lives in what has been described as the worst country in the world to be a woman.

Healthcare was poor in rural areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo when Denis Mukwege was a child. His father, a pastor, would often take him to visit the sick and together they would pray for them, but Denis couldn’t understand why his father didn’t give out medicine or prescriptions to help the patients. When he asked his father the question, he replied that he wasn’t a doctor. This experience made Denis realise that prayer alone was not enough.

He travelled to Burundi to study medicine and a few years later returned to the DRC to work as a general practitioner at the Hospital of Lemera in Kivu. But after witnessing the lack of pre and post natal care in his country he went to France to study gynaecology and obstetrics and came back to Lemera where he created a special maternity ward.

Panzi Hospital, Bukavu DRC © cyclopsr http-_bit.ly_NYUhoW

In 1996 though, during the first civil war of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was destroyed by Banyamulenge militia and Mukwege left for the city of Bukavu where he built a new maternity ward with an operating room at the Panzi Hospital.

Scores of women started arrive at the hospital everyday, travelling for hundreds of miles to seek help from Dr Mukwege. Most came for the repair of fistula’s (a hole in the tissue between the vaginal wall and bladder) which cause the women to leak urine and faeces. The two main types of fistula’s he came across were those caused by childbirth – usually from prolonged, obstructed labour in areas with no adequate access to healthcare – and those caused by a new epidemic sweeping across the DRC, that of sexual violence, a weapon of war used against women and children in the ongoing conflict.

Mukwege was soon operating on 10 women a day, dealing with some of most horrific acts of sadism imaginable. Women who had been raped with bayonets, sticks and rifles, bullets shot into them, destroying their reproductive organs. In the worst case he has ever seen, one woman lost her colon, bladder, vagina and rectum after a man shot a cartridge into her. Miraculously, she survived.

Ross Kemp visited the hospital as part of his Extreme World series in 2011. He met Dr Mukwege and some of the survivors being treated at the hospital. Here’s what happened on his visit:

Ross Kemp meets Dr Denis Mukwege at the Panzi Hospital

Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, visited the hospital a few years ago and wrote an article for Glamour Magazine based on her trip. While at Panzi she met a young woman called Nadine who told Ensler her story: “I’m 29,” she begins. “I am 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.” They then murdered Nadine’s three children, all under the age of 5, and gang raped her causing a massive fistula. “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 faeces. I explained what had happened. The man wept right there. He and some others brought me to the Panzi Hospital.”

Nadine is just one of over 20,000 women Dr Mukwege has helped in the last 14 years and he has ensured the work will continue by training four other doctors to perform fistula surgery. Last year they completed over 1,000 surgeries.

In 2011 Mukwege, Ensler and Christine Schuler Deschryver, winner of the Guardian‘s Women of the Year award, opened the City of Joy in Bukavu after becoming fed up with countless broken promises of help from well-meaning visitors to the Panzi.

They built a centre at the City of Joy where survivors have the opportunity to take a six month intensive educational course, learning self-defense, literacy, human rights and many other skills ensuring a brighter future for the women of Congo.

Left to right: Eve Ensler, Denis Mukwege and Christine Schuler Deschryver at the City of Joy © Photograph: Paula Allen Guardian

Denis Mukwege, now 57, has sacrificed a great deal to make his country a better place for women to exist. He’s received death threats, treated rape victims as young as 3 years old and endured long periods away from his family, but he continues to work 16 hour days to repair not only the bodies of the survivors of sexual violence but their souls too.

If you would like to find out more about the Panzi Hospital or donate, here is the link – http://www.panzihospital.org/about/support-panzi-hospital

The origins of the recent troubles in the DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been taken advantage of many times, over many years and for two reasons: money and power.

In the late 1800s King Leopold II of Belgium and his army laid claim to the country and for their own financial benefit they extorted forced labour from the natives for the collection of sap from rubber plants. Due to global demand, the sale of rubber made Leopold a small fortune but at the cost of the lives of millions of Congolese natives who were killed and mutilated by Leopold’s men for not meeting unrealistic quotas.

Many years later, after their independence from Belgium in the 1960s, president Mobutu Sese Seko changed the country’s name to Zaire and used the country’s money to lavish himself with expensive clothes and trips while his country crumbled around him. Mobutu spent the rest of the money to ensure he stayed in power for the next 30 years but his rule came to an end in the mid 1990s just as ‘Africa’s World War’, the deadliest conflict since World War Two, began.

Mobutu Sese Seko © http://bit.ly/NluU1h

In April 1994, the president of neighbouring Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, was assassinated when his plane was shot down in the Rwandan capital Kigali. An ethnic Hutu extremist regime took control of the country and over the next 100 days they murdered 800,000 ethnic Rwandan Tutsis in the last genocide of the 20th century.

Tutsi rebels, led by the current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, managed to overthrow the Hutu extremists and drove them across the border into Zaire where they received growing support from President Mobutu.

Paul Kagame © ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

Hutu rebels attacked Rwanda from refugee camps across the border, killing Tutsi’s and forcibly recruiting Hutu men into their growing army. They started to attack native Tutsi’s in Zaire and when the Rwandan army got word it began to back rebel groups in Zaire who were now fighting both Hutu militia and Mobutu’s government troops.

The leader of the rebels in Zaire, Laurent Kabila, and the Rwandan army soon took control of the capital Kinshasa and President Mobutu was forced to flee. Kabila was put in charge of the country and he changed its name back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the relationship between Rwanda and the DRC didn’t last long when Kabila ordered all Rwandan military to leave the country and failed to expel Hutu militia.

Laurent Kabila © http://bit.ly/M8NYyL

With the help of Uganda and Burundi, Rwanda tried to topple Kabila and almost did but the DRC had help from five other African nations including Angola and Zimbabwe.

The foreign armies, though, were more interested in money and plundered the country’s most valuable commodities –  diamonds, oil, gold and coltan/tantalum (a prized mineral used in mobile phones and mainly found in the DRC) – for their personal gain.

A peace agreement followed and saw the withdrawal of foreign troops but rebels with ties to the Rwandan army still controlled much of the east of the country and Hutu extremists including the men responsible for the genocide in Rwanda, started a new group, the FDLR, to drive the Tutsi’s from power.

Laurent Nkunda © AFP

Notorious warlord General Laurent Nkunda led a rival rebel group to protect the Tutsis from the FDLR, who he accused of being supported by the Congolese government, but he was overthrown by ‘Terminator’ Bosco Ntaganda, a man with a reputation for killing people easily. Both men are currently wanted for war crimes by the Congolese government and the International Criminal Court respectively. Ntaganda is wanted on counts which include mass murder and rape and is currently a fugitive living in the hills overlooking Kinshasa.

Nkunda was handed over to the Rwandans by Kabila’s government after they again switched sides to support the Tutsi rebel group. Nkunda is currently being held at an undisclosed location in Rwanda.

Bosco ‘The Terminator’ Ntaganda © Amnesty http://bit.ly/IGtQR3

After president Laurent Kabila was assassinated by his own bodyguard 11 years ago, his son Joseph Kabila took over and was elected president in 2006 in what was the first democratic elections for more than 40 years. Kabila Jnr has managed to assert some kind of control over the country during the last 6 years, but battles in the east of the DRC still continue and the government army have been accused of supporting the Hutu’s FDLR rebel group in their quest to control the country’s mines. Reports of mass rapes and killings committed by rebels and government troops still continue. Kabila has commented on the situation stating “It’s shocking. These kinds of acts are simply unforgivable.” He even visited the Panzi hospital back in 2010 but it remains to be seen what positive changes he will make in a country where rape is becoming ingrained as part of the culture in the east.

President Joseph Kabila, left, and Denis Mukwege at the Panzi Hospital © Panzi

But he needs only to look to Denis Mukwege to see what hard work and dedication can do in transforming the lives of others. Let’s hope he is inspired to make his country a better place after meeting a man who is, in my eyes, a hero.

Thanks for reading.

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga sentenced to 14 years in prison for recruiting child soldiers

Thomas Lubanga – © Karel Prinsloo/AP

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, 51, was today sentenced to 14 years in prison by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Back in March the ICC found him guilty of abducting boys and girls under the age of 15 in Congo’s eastern Ituri region between 2002 and 2003. He forced the boys to fight in his Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia and the girls were used as sex slaves. At the sentencing today Judge Adrian Fulford spoke about the need to protect children: ‘The vulnerability of children means they need to be afforded particular protection.’

During the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fighting broke out between two ethnic groups, Hema and Lendu. They fought over the gold-rich land in the east of the country and Lubanga, an ethnic Hema, led the UPC militia against the Lendu’s. As a result of the conflict almost 60,000 people died.

During that time a large scale war was taking place across the country and resulted in the deaths of over 5,000,000 people, mostly from murder, starvation and disease. The Ituri conflict was just a part of what was known as the ‘Second Congo War’ and the huge loss of life made it the deadliest conflict since World War Two.

Lubanga is the first person to be convicted and sentenced by the International Criminal Court since it was set up 10 years ago. Last month Liberia’s Charles Taylor was sentenced in The Hague for war crimes but in a case that was presided over by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

“Lubanga’s sentence is important not only for the victims who want justice done, but also as a warning to those who use child soldiers around the world,” Géraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch said.

The conflict in eastern DR Congo still continues and my next post will cover this in more depth and will also look at a man who dedicates his life to helping the survivors.