1st Ten Days at Panzi Hospital


This is the view this Sunday morning in Bukavu as Ari and I have breakfast overlooking Lake Kivu. She pointed out that I went from Oslo, Norway (where I spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum), a country at the top of most social and economic indexes, to Congo, a country at the bottom of most world rankings. The contrast is striking – and appalling.

It’s been a busy and productive 10 days at Panzi hospital. I arrived in time for the first Panzi Hospital partner and donor conference, May 23-25. Over 60 international and local organizations, Panzi Foundation DRC, and hospital staff came together to talk about the current status of Panzi and strategize for the future. Organizations included UNICEF, Stephen Lewis Foundation, Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), the Norwegian government, PMU and Lakarmissionen of Sweden among others. This was a wonderful opportunity for all of us to meet face-to-face, share our programs, and discuss collaborations. We left the conference inspired and excited about new synergies.

After the conference, Ari arrived in Bukavu after 3 weeks of working on PSU projects in Kenya. It’s great to be back together in Congo!

Everyday, at 6:45 am, Ari and I walk about 10 minutes from our hotel up to Nguba market to catch a ride to the hospital with Susanne from Sweden who works for Panzi Foundation DRC as a project coordinator. We arrive at the hospital about 7:35 to begin the workday.

Ari meets Emanuel, her 17-year-old “little brother” who translates and co-teaches with her at Aire de Jeux. Their days are filled with about 40 toddlers and babies in the morning and 40 elementary age kids in the afternoon, in addition to lots of glitter, glue, paint, construction paper, crayons and other art supplies. Emanuel worked with Ari in 2010 also. They are like siblings and really enjoy the time together, although they are exhausted by late afternoon.

Yesterday, as it was Saturday and there were no children at Aire de Jeux, Ari and Emanuel spent the day at his home cooking a feast of chapati (fried bread), guacamole, sweet waffles and mandazi (similar to a binet). Emanuel’s mother joined in the cooking in their outdoor kitchen. We all enjoyed stuffing ourselves and Ari has become quite the cook of African cuisine.

I spend most of time working on program development which means I’m either in meetings or on the computer (not that much different from home!). Panzi Foundation USA (PFUSA) continues to work closely with Panzi Foundation DRC, PMU, and NCA on Maison Dorcas III, a transit house for 200 women and children who have finished treatment at the hospital but have no where to go. This new building will provide housing, literacy and skills based programming as well as instruction on women’s human and legal rights. It is slated to be finished in 2014. PFUSA received a large grant (not officially announced yet) to help support programing at MDIII so much of my time has been spent working with partners to determine the best implementation strategy for the grant.

I am also working with Panzi hospital to pull together a list of medical supplies needed at the hospital in order to secure another shipping container from MedShare in Atlanta. Peter Frantz, executive director of PFUSA, coordinates this and all we are doing on the US side. He will visit Panzi at the end of June.

Friday I met with the Congolese women, Beatrice, who oversees the basket-making enterprise and trains survivors at the hospital to make large shopping bags out of colorful plastic strips. Although not officially announced yet, PFUSA is collaborating with a US fair trade company that wants to market these on a small scale in the US. I am trying to get the process in place for this to happen. Because the company is fair trade, we need to know the source of the plastic strips. Beatrice and I and Ali, my trusty translator, will got the market tomorrow to visit the vendor and find out more. Should be interesting!

There is an Italian group that wants to help set up a workshop to make prostheses for people with amputated limbs. Right now, all that is available in Bukavu are artificial limbs made of wood that work only below the knee. While this workshop would certainly meet a need locally, there is much to be negotiated such as sustainability. It’s not enough to create the workshop and train a couple of people as salaries are needed, funding for the prosthetics, and other expenses to keep it going. Where will that money come from? I hope it’s Italy.

Of course there are all the local groups with projects that want to meet to discuss possible collaborations and who need money for their initiatives. They operate on virtually no budget, usually funding their work out of their own pockets, whether working with survivors of sexual violence or street children, for example. And then there are many individuals who have legitimate needs such as the mother of 10 who requires surgery for a life-threatening tumor that can only be removed at the hospital in Kigali, Rwanda, and the young student who works at the little shop across from the hospital but doesn’t have the money to take the national exam before high school graduation, and mothers who need school fees for their children. Every single day, usually multiple times a day, I am approached and asked if I personally can put money towards costs or if PFUSA can help. The need is great, the government is corrupt, the hospital is constantly searching for grants and donors to keep up with demand of its services. I’m only here for short amounts of time yet there are moments when I find the state of affairs defeating and overwhelming.

But, eating chapati with Emanuel’s family, and watching the way Dr. Mukwege takes time to hug the children who rush to greet him as he moves about the hospital, and hearing the women patients singing to pass time in the courtyard, remind me once again that I am fortunate to do this work.

About Lee Ann De Reus

Executive Director, DV LEAP; Co-founder, Panzi Foundation USA
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