While a trip into East Africa’s Great Lakes Region as a delegate of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) may seem like business as usual, for senior economist Michel Juvet of Bordier & Cie it was a blow to the heart.
As a part of the SDC commission, Juvet contributed to Switzerland’s three-point mission to bring development assistance, advocate peace and human rights, and further humanitarian aid in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Juvet says stripping himself of emotion is essential to a reliable economic approach but that when dealing head on with the cruel issues of rape and violence, the emotion he rejects as an economist is the very thing that connects him to the victims. With a passion for photography, Michel Juvet’s lens paved the way for that nexus, and it was while visiting the Panzi hospital in Bukavu and the centres for victims of sexual violence in Bukavu and Bujumbura that he snapped his first picture.
Congolese gynaecologist, anti-rape activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Denis Mukwege confirms that over the course of thirteen years he operated on over 40,000 mutilated and raped women, under the greater shadow of a 500,000 rape victim count in Congo over a sixteen year span. The violent acts are executed primarily by gangs and military personnel using violence as a tactic to dominate the population, and result in the victims being completely ostracized from their communities, unable to earn a living for themselves and the offspring that inevitably ensue. Not only are their scars physical, they struggle with extensive psychological trauma, the symptoms of which include feelings of shame and worthlessness, depression, guilt and rejection by family and friends.
Returning from Africa, Michel Juvet was faced with the issue of how these women survive such blatant brutality. ‘I was obsessed with the question,’ writes the author of Même le ciel ne pleure plus (Even the Skies Weep No More) and recipient of the Prix de la Société Littéraire de Genève 2012. ‘Each time I met with them the emotion was overwhelming. I shuddered with every story, questioned with every portrait.’ The book is a collection of photographs and raw, unassuming poetry interspersed with personal testimonies and contributions by personalities such as former Swiss Confederation President and Chief of Foreign Affairs, Micheline Calmy-Rey; SDC Great Lakes Program Director, Jean-Marc Clavel; and King Baudouin International Development Prize 2011 awardee, Dr Denis Mukwege. It pays tribute to the thousands of rape victims who bear an intractable burden heavy with repercussion.
Sponsored conjointly by Bordier & Cie private bankers in Geneva, and the SDC Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Bern, all proceeds from book sales go directly to the Nturengaho Association in Bujumbura, Burundi, which operates in the prevention of sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease, and provides victims with medical care and crisis support. A workshop was built in November 2012 and was up and running by December that same year to equip survivors with the vocational training and income earning skills necessary to a sustainable future, engendering a sense of dignity, building a stronger community and providing an arm of relief.