MEET DR. NEEMA RUKUNGHU “DR. NENE”
Medical Doctor & Holistic Care Expert, SVS Unit
Known to her patients and co-workers as “Dr. Nene,” she maintains a positive and nurturing presence through challenging and seemingly impossible situations as a doctor at Panzi Hospital.
ENSURING RESPECT + DIGNITY FOR ALL SURVIVORS
Dr. Nene is a fixture of the Panzi community. From first serving as an intern in the hospital’s maternity ward in 2003 to leading the survivors of sexual violence (SSV) team for almost a decade, Dr. Nene has played an essential role in the development and expansion of the holistic model, both in DRC and abroad.
For the past 15 years, she has sought to establish a personal connection with each individual patient. She notes that this connection is often difficult to create – while the survivors may share information about their physical injuries during medical treatment, it takes much more trust for them to share the pain that is not visible. She works endlessly to ensure survivors understand their dignity, despite the trauma they endured, and advocates for the importance of self-care. Below, Dr. Nene shares a survivor’s story who had a particular impact on her.
The Journey of Nina
Nina arrived at Panzi Hospital when she was only 13 years old. As an orphan, she and her two little brothers had been taken in by their uncle. Shortly after they moved in with him, he took Nina to an empty field and raped her. They were found by others in the community and the uncle accused the girl of witchcraft in an unconscionable attempt to justify the rape. At this point, the community members turned on her.
A group of nuns found Nina and took her to a health center that was unable to provide comprehensive post-rape care or treat the serious infection she developed. She was referred to Panzi, where she was treated for over three months.
Despite our efforts, Nina continued to decline. She requested to speak to her little brothers one last time, to make sure they would be okay, and after they spoke, she passed away. During her time at Panzi, she made silk flowers, which is a common activity done by survivors. She gave these flowers to Dr. Nene – which she still has to this day. The flowers and Nina’s story serve as both a painful reminder of the brutality – and sometimes fatality – of sexual violence, as well as inspire her to continue to provide compassionate care to all survivors.
TRYING, BUT FULFILLING WORK
With the ongoing and increasing rates of sexual violence in the DRC, there are always survivors entering Panzi’s doors. As a doctor, this is an incredibly difficult, and at times seemingly impossible and powerless situation. But Dr. Nene is consistently inspired by the women who arrive at Panzi completely broken and transform into someone who has healed and is happy, laughing, and smiling again.
A great representation of this is the story of Jane that Dr. Nene recounted to us. Jane suffered the unimaginable. She came to Panzi with wounds both visible and invisible that seemed impossible to heal. Today, she has transformed into a beacon of joy and light. She owns her own home and is an essential fixture of our sister organization, City of Joy. She is an inspiration for all survivors who meet her.
Moments like that give her the energy and strength to continue and demonstrates the power and importance of our holistic healing model.
WE MUST CHANGE PERSPECTIVE TO STOP SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN CONFLICT
Dr. Nene strongly believes that sexual violence occurs when one human stops seeing the other as a human. She argues that we must see the humanity of others – and especially of women. She notes that we need to see ourselves in others, and that helps us to take care of one another.
“We need to see ourselves in others, and that helps us to take care of one another.”