On Monday, a number of USC’s religious organizations, the USC Institute for Global Health and USC Spectrum hosted Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder and director of the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, at the USC Caruso Catholic Center.
Mukwege has become known worldwide for his work in the field of medical treatment of survivors, in particular women in Congo who have been brutally raped. He has also become one of the most well-known advocates for the rights of women in Congo.
Mukwege has received numerous awards and honors for his work both as a doctor and as an advocate, including the U.N. Human Rights Prize and the Clinton Global Citizen Award. This Friday, he could be named the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize Winner for his work.
“It is extremely important to bring a figure like [Mukwege] to a university, especially to USC, because it amplifies the cause and gives it a stronger presence among people who are willing and able to make a change,” said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, the event moderator and co-founder of Jewish World Watch, one of the main sponsoring organizations.
Mukwege has previously addressed the United Nations General Assembly and frequently travels abroad to raise awareness about the severity of the situation in Congo. This was his first appearance in Los Angeles.
During his talk, Mukwege focused on sharing stories of the atrocities that occur in the Congo, and urged the attendees of the conversation to take a stand against these acts of cruelty and violence.
“This issue involves many different fields, and it is so important that more people become aware of it,” said Devra Traiman, a senior majoring in sociology. “It [was] honestly incredible to hear about all of the selfless work that he has done for this cause, and I hope that the event gets people more involved in [the issue].”
Though Mukwege, who does not speak English, had a translator relay what he was saying to the audience, his message still generated an intense audience response, including a standing ovation after Mukwege gave his initial speech.
“I am asking you here, this afternoon, to break the silence,” Mukwege said via translator. “Each one of us can help humanity, and support the values that have fostered human life.”
Students were impressed by the work that Mukwege does, and felt that though the widespread use of violence in Congo is difficult to full comprehend, it still carries relevance and involves a number of different fields of interest and study.
“I found many parts of [Mukwege’s] work really relevant to a lot of the stuff that I’ve studied,” said Kayleigh McGuinners, a second-year law student and member of the International Human Rights Clinic.
Mukwege stressed the magnitude and severity of the violence in Congo despite its physical distance from the typical USC student. Many of the students who attended the event, however, said they were already aware of the situation in Congo.
“I’m in the Immigration Clinic in the Gould School of Law, and it was very interesting to hear about [Dr. Mukwege’s] advocacy, because it relates to a lot of the principles I’ve studied,” said Nadia Danilovich, a second-year law student.
Mukwege urged students to take action to put an end to the mass violence.
“I ask you to give the world your voice so that we can end this senseless abuse and give back dignity to these women,” Mukwege said.
Many students found this direct call to action moving.
“After learning about the horrible violence against women that is occurring in the Congo, it is so inspiring to hear [Mukwege] speak, not only because he is a renowned advocate for the issue, but also because he is actually out there trying to mediate and eventually put a stop to the conflict,” said Yvette Chua, a sophomore majoring in international relations and a member of the USC Student Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy.
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