Janice Kamenir-Reznik is Co-Founder and President of Jewish World Watch (JWW), a leading organization in the fight against genocide and mass atrocities worldwide. JWW's work is currently focused on the ongoing crises in Sudan and Congo. Janice recently traveled, along with fellow JWW Board Members Diana Buckhantz and Diane Kabat, to Congo's eastern provinces to meet with JWW's on-the-ground project partners, to participate in the dedication of JWW's Chambucha Rape and Crisis Center, and to work with survivors of Congo's decades-long conflict to build innovative new partnerships and projects.
June 26, 2013
Today we visited our Rape and Crisis Center in Chambucha, a remote region of eastern Congo. It was an emotional, inspiring day.
It took us four crazy hours to get there and four crazy hours to return, but it was more than worth every second.
The reception they gave us was outrageously generous. Diana was weeping as we were greeted by scores of women- all of the 50-75 women who were waiting for care in the reception area and patients recovering from surgeries, illness and childbirth -- and by every staff member present, from top to bottom, including more than 20 nurses, doctors, technicians, gender-based violence counselors and administrators working there. We met a doctor trained in fistula repair at the world-renowned and pioneering Panzi Hospital, the local governor, all of the various priests and pastors who counsel the 30,000 women served by the Center, and just about anyone else in ANY leadership role in the surrounding area.
At the dedication ceremony, we were given the honor of cutting the ribbon. Then, after a few gracious speeches, we got a thorough tour of the impressive facility. The birthing room, which has two birthing tables, is amazing. Before the Center was built, women gave birth on dirt floors. The Center has been delivering babies since Feb 1, so at the rate of 2-3 per day, the room is getting excellent use!
The surgical room was by far the cleanest room we have ever seen in Congo. The doctor was especially proud of the professional surgical light and the generator. Before the Center, the only light for surgeries was someone holding a flashlight. The changes that have occurred for women's health -- their bodies and their spirits -- because of this Center are incredible.
And if the improvements in facilities are impressive, the impact of the Center on these women and the greater community it serves is overwhelming. One woman we met walked 30 miles to the Center to give birth via cesarean section, a procedure without which she would have surely died. Before this Center opened in Chambucha, this same woman would have had absolutely no option or resource for medical intervention to deal with complications in the birth, no option to save her life or her baby's life.
We met privately with Honorata*, who was raped by a man disguised as a pastor. To add insult to injury, when her husband heard of her attack, he abandoned his wife and their five children, aged 2-12. Honorata's parents refused to help her, also seeing her as stigmatized by her trauma. Her story broke our hearts. We met with a young mother, Bauma*, forced into marriage by her parents when she was still a child and abandoned by her husband when she was a few months pregnant. Both Honorata and Bauma came to the Center via their neighborhood gender-based violence (GBV) volunteer, women trained by the Center to keep informed of violence when it occurs, and to encourage the women who are violated to come to the Center. After their trauma, the Center helps women like Honorata and Bauma by training them to run a business, and giving them the initial materials to get started. Honorata sells ground maize and baked goods, and Bauma sells palm oil. They both felt hopeful now about their future largely because of the Center and counseling they have received since their traumas.
The day was emotional, uplifting and inspiring, and made us all very, very proud. Just as they shared their stories with us, we shared ours with them. When we dedicated the plaques in honor of those that gave so generously to make Center a reality, we explained who Dillon Henry (z'l) was**. They cherished the story of Dillon and loved the photo and words on the plaque. Diana dedicated her plaque to the memory of her beloved parents, and all day Diana's father was with us in spirit. And while the Arnow family chose not to dedicate a specific plaque, the mitzvah of the Center belongs equally to the entire Arnow family.
The Center is a jewel for the entire region, and indeed is a jewel in the JWW crown. Thanks to Harriet Zaretsky and Steve Henry, Diana Buckhantz, and Ben and Leslie Arnow, and your respective foundations. And an equally hearty thank you to all the Jewish World Watch donors and activists who worked so hard and gave so generously to ensure that we met our goal to serve these incredible women in Congo. We could never have reached this important milestone without you.
To complete the incredible work started by those listed above and the rest of our community, we still need to raise $56,000. Please consider donating today, and help women like Honorata and Bauma.
*Names have been changed.
**Dillon Henry (z"l), a leader amongst the many dedicated JWW youth activists, tragically died in the summer of 2007. Dillon's leadership and passionate activism on behalf of those suffering in Darfur inspired all who came into contact with him. In his loving memory, Dillon's family has worked with JWW to support survivors of genocide and mass atrocities from Sudan and Congo, including by building Dillon Henry Health Clinic in the Central African Republic and the Dillon Henry Youth Centers in the Oure Cassoni Darfuri Refugee Camp in eastern Chad. The operating room in the Chambucha Rape and Crisis Center is named in Dillon's memory.