By Frankie Pondolph, Equal Exchange Sales Representative
Frankie Pondolph and Laurie Foote, Equal Exchange Sales Representatives, with Naama Haviv, Executive Director of the Panzi Foundation USA
It was a humbling experience to represent Equal Exchange, along with my co-worker Laurie, at the honorary reception of Dr. Denis Mukwege for his work at the Panzi hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Dr. Mukege has been awarded the 2016 Reinfield Award on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing for his work in Women’s Global Health. The hospital attempts to provide a sanctuary for healing, both physically and mentally for all those affected by the violence in the DNC.
Equal Exchange’s connection to the Panzi Hospital was formed in 2011 through the Congo Coffee Project, a collaboration between Equal Exchange and the Panzi Foundation. Through this project, Equal Exchange brings Congolese coffee to the U.S. market; with the aim of raising awareness of the crimes of sexual violence committed every day in the DRC. Through sales of our Congo Coffee, we have also raised more than $60,000 to directly support the work being done to help victims of this violence heal.
Last evening, I was among fifteen or so people from across the United States who were in some way connected to, or inspired by, the work of the Panzi Hospital. Executive Director of the Panzi Foundation USA, Naama Haviv, spoke chillingly of her work with Dr. Mukwege and the strategic efforts Panzi USA is doing to advocate for the women, children and men affected by sexual violence. Naama spoke of the word “empowerment” as something that cannot be given, as in “to empower,” but rather, true empowerment is something that can only be found within oneself.
Laurie and Frankie, with Dr. Denis Mukwege
Dr. Mukwege then spoke of his work at the Panzi Hospital to physically heal women who have been sexually abused. His work to heal the victims affected by the horrific violence committed in the DRC is only a piece of the puzzle towards greater healing and social justice. Dr. Mukwege defined justice as the ability to use one’s voice to speak out and through this action, to create an opportunity to heal.
Dr. Mukwege remarked that too many people today close their eyes and ears to the injustices around the world; what one cannot see or hear does not exist. As I stood next to the group of fifteen likeminded people attending the reception, I reflected on our ability to use our voices. Dr. Mukwege reminded us all this evening that each one of us has something to give and that something is the ability to speak out about what is happening every day in the Congo. I will be encouraging people to use their voices as tools for their own empowerment, and to take action. The Congo Coffee project and the work of Dr. Mukwege and the Panzi Foundation are vehicles we can all use to collectively open our ears and eyes to what is happening, to call attention to these crimes, and to demand justice.