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Province honours Congo activist

Mukwege founded hospital for female victims

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Since he started a hospital in conflict-ravaged Congo in 1999, more than 40,000 female victims of extreme sexual violence have been treated.

A dozen international awards later, Dr. Denis Mukwege is in Winnipeg raising funds and awareness for Panzi Hospital and its after-care program helping patients recover from psychological wounds and move on.

"They need your voice to support them in their struggle," Mukwege said Monday.

Mukwege was honoured by the province Monday with the Order of the Buffalo Hunt.

"Dr. Mukwege's lifelong dedication to the advancement of medicine in the Congo and commitment to working with vulnerable women in war zones is to be admired and commended," Premier Greg Selinger said in a prepared statement.

Manitoba's top honour was presented to the doctor quietly in a private ceremony at the legislative building, where he was surrounded by plainclothes security. In 2012, he was the target of an assassination attempt.

"We don't know who was behind it," said Mukwege. That hasn't stopped him from working at the hospital, speaking up for women and against the violence of men.

"This courage in the face of adversity and conviction to fight for what's right just exemplifies the Order of the Buffalo Hunt's principles of leadership, commitment and service to community," Selinger said.

On Wednesday, Mukwege will be at a Graffiti Gallery show featuring the works of Winnipeg and Congolese high school students with former governor general Micha´lle Jean. On Thursday, he'll take part in an evening of dialogue and music at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre with the likes of retired general Sen. Roméo Dallaire and Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy.

In Winnipeg, far from African conflicts and rebel forces, Mukwege still may not be safe. There have been two security "incidents" since he arrived, said Darcy Ataman, who organized Mukwege's visit to Winnipeg. The Winnipeg producer is the founder of Make Music Matter, a non-profit organization that's setting up a music program at Panzi Hospital to help women in their recovery. Women who've been brutalized can be the author of their destiny, writing their own song lyrics and recording them at a studio opening in May at Panzi Hospital's after-care facility, Maison Dorcas.

"They can be their own local rock stars," said Ataman.

The devastation and stigma of rape make it hard for women to return to their communities, said Mukwege.

The music, along with counselling and support to get a small business going, help survivors "regenerate," said Mukwege.

"We need to ensure their life can be different."

The mineral-rich area that's home to them has been ravaged by many armed groups, with new rebel movements spawned on a regular basis, some of them with backing from neighbouring countries.

An estimated 5.4 million people have died in two decades of war.

Still, there's hope for Congo, the doctor said.

Last year for the first time, leaders from 11 countries in the region signed a peace deal aimed at bringing stability to the war-torn east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"It's a positive sign for us," said Mukwege.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2014 A6

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