This interview was agreed to by Dr. Mukwege as part of the redaction of AMADE's 2019 - 2020 / Annual report
AMADE: Could you remind us of the causes of the recurrent problem of malnutrition and tell us how the funding of AMADE, in 2019–2020, within the framework of its intervention with respect to Emergency Aid contributed to providing relief for children?
Dr Mukwege: In a country potentially very rich in natural resources, in which the rainy season lasts nine months of the year, with very fertile volcanic lands, and possibilities for development, particularly for breeding poultry and small and large livestock, it is a shame that are still so many cases of malnutrition. Unfortunately, that’s the reality. The periphery of Kavumu, relatively secure, attracts displaced families that are fleeing the insecurity of their home villages, owing to the activism of armed groups (in the medium and high plateaus of Kalehe, Ramba, Kachiri, Ziralo, Katasomwa, Lemera, Bushaku, etc.), thus adding to the number of families to accommodate, who are themselves in a state of great vulnerability.
In this context, the financial support of AMADE enabled us to assist 110 children suffering from malnutrition, at the nutritional centre of Cirheja in Kavumu, between 1 September 2019 and 31 August 2020. For one year, this funding helped us supply the necessary food and cover the fees and costs of school provisions for these children. The AMADE budget allowed us to bring the parents of these students into solidarity credit unions with individual financial support varying between 40 to 100 USD (depending on their abilities and on the domain of activity chosen) to fund their income-generating activities (IGAs) – which the context of the Covid-19 pandemic did not allow us to make a reality.
AMADE : You have been fighting for the well-being of children and protection for young women and girls who are the victims of sexual violence – violence that is the result of terrible guerrilla warfare in RDC, in Sud-Kivu, for several years now. In the cities and villages, what situation do young women currently find themselves in?
Dr Mukwege: We received and cared for these young women at the Panzi Hospital. But it is important to mention that since the arrest and sentencing of the provincial MP of Sud-Kivu, who was the author of rapes against infants and little girls in Kavumu, we no longer receive little girl rape victims in the same numbers as before (this MP was sentenced in the first degree in December 2017 and in the second degree in July 2018). But we are still accommodating little girls from other villages of Sud-Kivu. Among the survivors of sexual violence that we are receiving at the Panzi Hospital, around 22% are minors, young girls aged between 0 and 17 years old.
At the maternity ward of Panzi Hospital, young girls under 17 years of age are giving birth to children at increasing rates. It is a challenge both in terms of providing adequate care and maternal health, as well as concerning the future of the children born from these rapes. Another challenge remains: while we have treated the genitals of these raped girls in Kavumu between 2013 and 2015, we have not yet undertaken any studies with respect to their sexual and reproductive lives once they reach adulthood.
In 2020, with the aim of improving their living conditions and protection, we built 42 homes for the survivors of sexual violence along the Kavumu-Katana-Kalehe route, thanks to the financial support of the Luxembourg Croix-Rouge. In 2021, through this same programme, 65 new homes are being built along this route, which will now also accommodate survivors from Minova and Bunyakiri. In 2022, 150 additional houses will be built.
The Fondation Panzi programme will also assist young girls to leave prostitution in the shanty towns on the outskirts of the city. We welcome them at halfway houses, with a holistic model, providing them with supervisor mothers; they go to school, receive food, hygiene kits, and the necessary medical care. Those that want to can even take professional training courses.
In addition, we are supporting the IGAs that are exercised by the parents of all of these young women and girls.
AMADE : Could you give us an overview of your actions within the framework of the AMADE programme, “Dignité pour les Femmes” (Dignity for Women)?
Dr Mukwege:It is mainly in the field of child protection that we run the Dignity for Women programme: in our support for the young survivors of sexual violence and children suffering from malnutrition, as well as their parents.
AMADE : What is your current view of the health and social situation? Do you have a message of hope to give us for the coming months?
Dr Mukwege:We deplore that the number of victims of sexual violence continues to rise. Only the construction of durable peace in RDC will allow enduring solutions to be established. And we will not have this peace without justice. That is why all of our advocacy work is currently focused on establishing mechanisms of transitional justice and the application of the recommendations from the Mapping report produced by the United Nations Joint Office for Human Rights (UNJHRO) since 2010. We need a holistic strategy of transitional justice in RDC, which will enable the establishment of an international criminal tribunal for the RDC or specialised mixed chambers.
My message of hope is the courage that often characterises the women who are victims of sexual violence, and their determination to transform their suffering into strength.
AMADE :What are the characteristics of your fight for the well-being of the young women and girls that you care for and protect?
Dr Mukwege:Our action revolves around our holistic “one-stop centre” model, based on four pillars: medical, psychosocial, socioeconomic reinsertion, and legal and judicial guidance.
The support of children constitutes our main priority, whether they have come from mining quarries or are victims of sexual violence, children associated with armed groups, young women and girls leaving prostitution, unaccompanied minors in general or those seeking to leave the precariousness of the street…
© Panzi Foundation /AMADE 2021