On Sunday a group of us drove out to Nyangezi to view construction of Dr. Florimond’s hospital.
Nyangezi is a peaceful country town, 1½ hour from Bukavu, on reasonable roads. The countryside is exquisite with rolling hills and valleys of tropical lush green growth. Flowering vines twine through the trees, and cultivated gardens of beans, corn, and banana seem to cover every square inch. It is difficult to understand how starvation could be rampant in such prosperity. I ask and am told it is because farmers who have been forced off their land by continuing warfare and fear of being attacked have no way to feed their families. Relief agencies do what they can, but they are unable to reach people in inaccessible areas, which constitute most of DR Congo. Nyangezi is quiet at the moment, so the people are able to farm.
Dr. Florimond has been drawn back to Congo to help his people. The more I get to know him, the more I realize he is a visionary. Well aware of what causes the staggering suffering in his country, he has big plans to remedy it. The Shiloh Center Hospital in Nyangezi is such an example. For one thing, it is huge. In the process of being constructed, it will hold over 200 patients when completed.
The health center is named Poll Clinique in honor of Kurt Poll, a private American donor whose contributions are making both the health center and hospital possible. (There is no government support to speak of here) An industrialist in Grand Rapids, MI, he and his wife are the best kind of Christians, having compassion for others and giving generously to help them.
The back of Poll Clinique seen from hospital site.
The ward wing seen from behind looking toward the Poll Clinique.
There is less fighting now as this is a time of attempted peace in DR Congo. Thus, there are less victims of sexual violence seeking medical care, and with donations from abroad, there are better equipped hospitals to accommodate them now. However, UN reports estimate that for every victim that comes for treatment, thirty are left untreated—an appalling number. One wonders what happens to these women; surely, they and the children dependent on them contribute to the high mortality rate in DRC each month.
The pressing need now is for after-care centers to house the women while they recover physically and emotionally, and while they receive training to become self-sufficient. The Bukavu Trauma Healing and Care Center is an excellent model of how to provide training for displaced, destitute women, which is why I support it and encourage you to do so. Yet it cannot afford living facilities for the women, so most live in slums with mud floors, inadequate roofing, little money for food, and no one to watch their children during the day. Additionally, they are forced to do hard labor to support their families, which makes physical recovery difficult.
Private rooms will be located in left wing.
The Shiloh Center Hospital will answer these needs. The vision is that surrounded by beauty in a peaceful environment and given time to heal, the women have a greater chance for full recovery. Detraumatization therapy will be a standard part of the treatment, as will employment training and literacy classes, as most of these women are illiterate. Reconciliation with husbands and community will be part of the treatment approach, as the woman has the best chance of surviving when reunited with her family. Equally important will be the childcare facilities available for the children.
Health center goats greet visitors as we tour the ward wing.
The setting for the Poll Clinique and Shiloh Center Hospital is quite lovely. Our little party drove out in two cars: Dr. Florimond, his three sisters and one brother, me, the Senator, his wife, and some friends of theirs. We explored the construction, toured the grounds, and visited the health center. It was a beautiful day, and later we ate lunch prepared by the Senator’s wife and Dr. Florimond’s sister Florianne.
Florianne and Senator's wife Gemma stand beside tall amaranth plants.
Individual rooms will have private bath.
A late note: Tonight I spoke with Dr. Florimond, who just learned from patient statistics gathered at Poll Clinique since October 2007 that an astounding 45% of their women patients are HIV positive! This is compared to 2-3% of patients here in Bukavu and elsewhere. I don't think anyone suspected this as Nyangezi has been without conflict for some time.
However, after the Interahamwe commited genocide in Rwanda, they fled to northeast DR Congo where they created havoc between 1998 and 2003, and still do in isolated areas. The brutality and sexual violence against women began with their presence as such cruelty had not existed previously in Congo. Also there were two large displacement centers near Nyangezi around 2003, and single women are especially vulnerable in those camps. Both these factors probably explain how AIDS came to Nyangezi.
Apparently no relief agency has checked the medical status of this community. The clinic has rechecked the statistics and is in the process of ordering medication, as percentages this high indicate an epidemic. Fortunately the children do not seem to be affected to the same degree.
Children of Nyangezi. . .
. . . line up to watch the white lady take pictures.
With love and gratitude,