At What Point Does One Lose One's Humanity?

I have been incredibly blessed in my life to be able to travel. Seeing the world and its diversity first hand has been the greatest teacher, and never have I learned a more difficult lesson then when I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2009. The DRC, bordered by nine different countries, is home to over 200 ethnic groups, making it literally the heart of Africa. This country is in a state of emergency. Various militias and complicated politics all play a part in the devastation of the land and the population, but no one is suffering more than the women and young girls. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been beaten, tortured and raped -- atrocities beyond anything that I have ever heard of or could imagine.

During my visit to the DRC, I visited Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, a city on the eastern border that is known for being one of the hardest hit by this plague of sexual violence. The hospital is one of the only safe havens for victims, and the principal doctor, Dr. Mukwege, is one of the people closest to being a saint that I have ever met. Beyond standard medical and psychological treatments for victims, the hospital performs surgical repairs for women who suffer from fistulas in their vagina or rectum. The surgery is literally a miracle for these women and girls who could otherwise be permanently incontinent, as well as suffer from chronic infections. The fistulas that the hospital treats are normally the result of not simply violent or numerous rapes, but more commonly from a deliberate infliction of damage to the genitalia, from sharp objects, knives or gun shots. The idea behind this brutality is to completely humiliate and breakdown families, as well as entire communities -- a violence which seems to know no limits.

After such abuse, bodies and minds will never be the same. It is moments like these when I question how is it possible for one human to commit such an act against another, and at what point does one lose one's humanity? I found myself then wondering how can you ever expect these women to trust again, especially when they return to their families only to be shunned and cast out? Where are they to turn? Even if their physical wounds are able to heal, they become debilitated without the support of a family or a community and without skills or resources so many women have absolutely no means to support themselves. At times the problem seems overwhelming -- too large to fix.

At the headquarters of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of women who work with non-governmental organizations in Bukavu. Listening to these women broke my heart. One woman made the statement that they want to fight -- they want change and hope, but have no idea who to turn to anymore. They felt that they could trust no one, they felt alone and helpless. I understood what they meant. Just ¬listening to them talk about their situation, it was hard not to feel as she did, helpless.

For a problem so big and so complicated, where do you begin? What I have found and what I believe is that you begin somewhere, anywhere, but you must begin. You must act. As you read this, consider your humanity. Consider for one moment if you or your sister, your mother or your daughter lived in such a dire situation -- then act. There are overarching problems that our generation may not ever be able to change, but there are also women suffering here and now. These women need us and we have the capacity to change their lives.

In Bukavu, I saw in action the change that can be made when I met Christine Schuler Deschryver and learned about her work with V-Day.

V-Day defines itself as a global movement to end violence against women and girls. They work around the world building support, speaking out, educating, collaborating with local organizations and inspiring men and women to stop the violence. Christine has devoted her life to helping the women and girls of the DRC, and when we met, she and the V-Day team were hard at work creating the City of Joy project in Bukavu. The City of Joy is a unique facility for survivors of sexual violence. It will support these women by helping them heal, and provide them with opportunities to develop their self-sustainability and leadership through programmes such as group therapy, dance, sexual education, self-defence, and economic empowerment. Seeing the land where this project would be built, and hearing the plans, I knew that this is an act that will make a difference.

I urge you to please educate yourself about the situation of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and support the work of the Panzi Hospital and V-Day. I can vouch for these organizations, and promise your support will be nothing short of life saving.

What does it mean if there is one more hospital bed that can comfort a woman who has just dragged herself miles to reach aid? What does it mean to the 13 year-old who does not get raped? What does it mean when she can trust a man and raise a child to believe that people -- both men and women -- can be good?

Charlize Theron is an Academy-award winning actress and a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on eliminationg violience against women. As a follow up to this article, please see Ms. Theron's "Hope in the City of Joy" in the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charlize-theron/hope-city-of-joy_b_848629.html.

Other related links:
http://www.charlizeafricaoutreach.org/
http://www.un.org/sg/mop/