Dr. Denis Mukwege, Congolese gynecologist who receives his Nobel Peace Prize today, proclaimed in 2015 when he was preaching at a Swedish Pentecostal conference: ”The Panzi hospital is a fruit of your prayers!” A Pentecostal himself who occasionally pastors a local church in Bukavu, dr. Mukwege has repeatedly thanked the Swedish Pentecostal movement for supporting him.
This support goes way back and have had multiple layers. We have talked to Maria Bard at PMU, the Swedish Pentecostal Mission’s development cooperation organization, about what this bond between their organization and Panzi has looked like, as well as her personal meetings with and impressions of Mukwege himself.
What has the Swedish Pentecostal movement done to support Mukwege?
– First of all, Denis Mukwege’s father was a pastor in the Congolese Pentecostal movement CEPAC, which was founded by Swedish missionaries in 1921. Swedish Pentecostal churches funded parts of Mukwege’s medical education. Initially, he worked on a hospital called Lemera which was founded by Pentecostals. It was one of the biggest and most well-functioning hospitals in the region. Many Swedish Pentecostal missionaries have been treated and born there. It was destroyed as the First Congo War broke out.
– There was a lot of discussion on whether the Lemera Hospital should be rebuilt or if a new hospital should be constructed. Due to the recent genocide in Rwanda, there was a lot of need in the Congolese province of South Kivu. In addition to grants from elsewhere, the director of PMU at the time, Roland Stenlund, convinced the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) to help financing the establishment of a new hospital, led by Dr. Mukwege. The Panzi Hospital.
– The hospital opened in 2002. It was a general hospital for the local population with specialization in maternal health care. Mukwege observed more and more women who were victims of sexual violence. In 2004, he started, with support from PMU, a special project to help survivors of sexual violence. Later, we have helped him finance the transit house Maison Dorcas where survivors after their treatment can study and learn skills that can give them an income. We support projects at Panzi which educate the local population about their rights, women’s rights and human rights. PMU has also worked together with Mukwege on different advocacy campaigns relating to the situation in DR Congo.
What does Mukwege’s faith look like?
– It is interesting that Dr. Mukwege is accepted in all camps. He’s extremely appreciated everywhere. Both the most conservative organizations and the most progressive feminists love him. And yet, he’s fundamentally just a devout Pentecostal doctor. Whenever he’s asked what motivates him and gives him strength – a question he gets a lot – he points to two things: the strength of the women, and his faith. After meeting him several times, I can testify that Mukwege’s faith means a lot to him.
– Every morning there is prayer at Panzi. Even though it is part of the national health care structure, it is owned and driven by CEPAC, the Congolese Pentecostal movement. Panzi’s work to help survivors of sexual violence is known for its holistic approach to health care, known as people-centered care. It approaches patients as not just physical beings, but as spiritual, emotional and social beings. Based on their Christian worldview, they see every human being as created in the image of God and thus, worthy of all the respect and dignity one can possibly give. At Panzi, Mukwege does not only do surgeries: he hugs and celebrates with the women. They have had their dignity stolen from them through the sexual violence; oftentimes their village does not want anything to do with them. Some of the most important things we can work for, Mukwege argues, is that we by our care bring them their dignity back.
What’s your impression of Mukwege as a person?
– He’s very warm, focused, intelligent, engaged and intuitive. He knows his stuff, and he knows people. He’s not an easy boss; he demands a lot. That’s because he demands a lot from himself. He does not sleep much, he works a lot. In fact, he often takes strange micro pauses when it seems like he’s sleeping, but he’s thinking. He can do that in the middle of a meeting, and still know everything that has been said. He’s not only a physician, but a strategist. He has an incredible work capacity, and he knows why he’s doing what he does. He wants to serve these women. The relationship between the women and him is very strong. He is able to bring that with him and communicate it on an international level. Some people who become as famous as him forget where they come from. He never will.
What did you think when you learned that he got the Nobel peace prize?
– I was in the Swedish Television studio, just as I’ve been for the past five years every time they are going to announce the peace prize winners. They have wanted me to be there, because Mukwege has for a long time been a popular candidate for the prize. I sat there with my notes, and all of a sudden I heard the news. He had finally got it! The first thing I thought about was the rupture of joy that must have been going on at Panzi at that very moment. Mukwege has received many prizes and awards previously, and several times when I have been at the hospital people have been shouting and celebrating because they mistake those for the Nobel prize. But now, they had all the reasons to celebrate like never before. I was so happy thinking about them.
– Then I started to wonder what this hopefully will lead to. Sexual violence has received a lot of attention, but the funds to do something about it are severely insufficient. Many high level decision makers in the world have visited Panzi by now, hearing the women’s stories and pledging to stop it, and yet the money is missing. Will this finally change? Will the Nobel peace prize mark a beginning to the end of sexual violence in the world?
Maria Bard is Advocacy Officer at PMU.