Transforming Violence and Conflict into Hope and Innovation:
Establishing a Center for Training and Research in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo
It all started when U-M Wallenberg Medal winner Dr. Denis Mukwege gave his lecture in fall 2010. Dr. Mukwege, who has treated tens of thousands of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), challenged members of the university community to help end the ongoing, brutal and systematic use of rape as a tool of war in the DRC and worldwide, and to apply its collective expertise to develop interventions for the medical, psychological and social needs of survivors in post-conflict environments.
While at U-M, Dr. Mukwege, the director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in the eastern Congo, met with several people, including Janis Miller from the School of Nursing. “As we were parting, I remember him looking at me intently and saying ‘I need one nurse from Michigan.’ In the spirit of Raoul Wallenberg, I promised I’d find him “one who can make a difference.”It turns out I wanted to be that nurse,” she explains.
Dr. Miller wasn’t the only person who wanted to get involved. There were many other faculty at Michigan who also wanted to find ways to work with Dr. Mukwege. A multidisciplinary team from Nursing, Business, Social Work, Public Health, Medicine was soon created. This eventually grew into a Global Challenges project that aims to “transform violence and conflict into hope and innovation.”
An exploratory trip in October 2011, funded by U-M’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, found a completely new landscape in the DRC with extremely dedicated local physicians, nurses and university faculty members who had a lot of data, research questions and project ideas but needed infrastructure and research apprenticing opportunity to effectively share their work with the world. “Data and information from a post-conflict environment is both unique and powerful. It is the local people and those who have been through the war who best understand the environment and what needs to be addressed first. We knew that the research and the focus of our project must to be driven by the Congolese in order to affect local capacity for solving the local problems, but with intended international impact,” explains Miller.
The first phase of this project funded by the Global Challenges grant revolves around a partnership with the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and its associated university Universite Evangelique D’Afrique (UEA). Located at the epicenter of post-conflict violence in DRC, these paired institutions are uniquely situated to address challenges posed by the conflict, but that are by no means unique to DRC. For the people in the eastern part of the country, the toll of war has been staggering: more than 80% of the population has had to flee their homes at least once, more than 50% has experienced the violent deaths of family/friends, more than 30% has been abducted for at least a week, and conservatively, more than 20% of all women have been raped, usually repeatedly. While DRC is extreme, it is hardly the only place globally that such violence occurs. Thus, the experiences and approaches developed at Panzi and UEA to address the devastating physical, emotional and economic effects of conflict will have applications around the world. Dr. Mukwege and Gustave Mushagalusa, Ph.D., the Chancellor of the UEA lead the DRC team, along with Professor Kanigula Mubagwa who directs the newly formed center for fostering the research and training.
The U-M team consists of Prof. Miller, an expert in childbirth-related pelvic tissue trauma and its associated symptoms of urinary and fecal incontinence, prolapse, and resulting physical and psychological distress. Dr. Paul Clyde from the Ross School of Business who has worked on a variety of business models with health care institutions in emerging markets around the world including India, China, Rwanda, Uganda, and Honduras. Jane Hassinger from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, a clinical social worker and psychoanalyst whose research in Ghana, Rwanda, and South Africa has focused on coping strategies for women suffering from abuse and trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and women’s psychological and economic development. And Lisa Peters, an epidemiologist and the project manager, who is fluent in Swahili, highly experienced in international program management, and is serving as a critical bridge between the two sites.
The “Transforming Violence and Conflict into Hope and Innovation” project is focused on developing technical support for the Panzi and UEA team through the creation of the International Center of Advanced Research and Training (ICART) in Bukavu. ICART will develop sustainable 1) training and 2) research programs to optimize approaches to health and education implemented around the world while supporting the specific mission of these two institutions in Bukavu: Panzi Hospital and UEA.
ICART’s training programs will spread knowledge gathered through Panzi’s unique experience as a health center of excellence in a post-conflict environment, generate curriculum through UEA that reflects these experiences and can be used in other settings, offer capacity building through new skill sets, and generate revenue in support of the hospital’s and university’s operations.
Its research component will evaluate outcomes of ongoing and new projects, assure appropriate funding levels for local sustainability, and serve as an administrative center for research proposals from around the world.
ICART will also develop a protocol and process that directly benefits local staff and faculty by involving them in research projects, generating revenue for the research center, and developing models for successful international collaborations. The capacity building strategies have the long-term goal of education and health-delivery success in reducing the toll of post-conflict violence.
To date, projects addressing mental health, blood banks free of malaria, cervical cancer screening and the classification of fistulas have been catalyzed through this collaboration. There are newly launched international projects from highly respected institutions, and strong interest in locally driven initiatives being readiedfor phase II of the project.
U-M students currently are not being encouraged to go to the DRC due to travel restrictions but the “Transforming Violence and Conflict into Hope and Innovation” project is still finding ways to engage students on campus. A team of 9 graduate students from the Ross School of Business is mapping successful models from similar research centers and institutes at U-M, Bangladesh, India, and Ghana. They plan to provide ICART with recommendations and a business plan on how to remain sustainable and successful. A nursing graduate student launched an informational website from her master’s thesis literature review of the health consequences of the African wars in DRC. There is also a plan to bring medical students from UEA to visit the U-M campus. These efforts are intended to set the stage for ongoing exchanges both directions in the future, as safety issues continue to improve.
Janis Miller, PhD, U-M School of Nursing
Paul Clyde, PhD, Ross School of Business
Jane Hassinger, MSW, Institute for Research on Women and Gender
Lisa Peters, MPH, U-M School of Nursing
DR Congo Team:
Denis Mukwege, MD, Panzi Hospital
Gustave Mushagalusa, PhD, Universite Evangelique en Afrique
Kanigula Mubagwa, MD, PhD, ICART Director