Music therapy in action: our visit to Panzi


Since 2015, ELRHA‘s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) has been supporting a unique Music Therapy Programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a place which, according to OHCHR, is “arguably the epicenter of sexual violence against women today…”

The programme, a partnership between Panzi Foundation USA and DRC at Maison Dorcas, along with Make Music Matter, aims to help survivors, vulnerable women, children and Panzi staff themselves, use the healing power of music to recover from traumatic past experiences.


Recently, Claire Dusonchet, Innovation Adviser at the HIF, ELRHA visited the programme to see first hand how it’s helping survivors of sexual violence.

Music therapy in the mainstream

In DRC, music is such a powerful medium of communication that it’s surprising a project with such a perfect fit to its cultural context has not taken place before. Music therapy has been used informally for some time in the rehabilitation of trauma survivors across Africa, but its incorporation into the holistic treatment of survivors of sexual violence, from admission to reintegration, is not a widespread practice, nor is the provision of therapy for the care-givers.

The main pillar of this project team is the group session, based on the interaction of two specialists: a psychologist and a music producer. One session lasts approximately two hours, and gives survivors and staff the opportunity and a safe environment to share their stories by creating and recording a song based on the themes raised in the session – all rather impressive!

music therapy     album release      In rehearsal

Panzi Hospital: a fertile ground for innovation

I met with the truly inspiring founder and director Dr Mukwege, affectionately known as ‘The Doctor’ and the brilliantly dedicated staff – many of whom chose to leave their lives elsewhere to join Panzi and make a difference in the country. Panzi’s model is uncommon; in a country devastated by war and an epidemic of sexualised violence, it proves to be a very efficient model of holistic healing: transitional housing, therapeutic counseling, legal aid, community reintegration services and job training.

The most striking thing for me was that all staff, without exception, are genuinely proud to be part of Panzi and to be able to actively contribute to develop an effective local response to increasing health needs that are not addressed by the state.

The ‘Panzi brand’ has an incredible reach – seeing this phenomenon first hand was very impressive. It is thought of with great respect and confidence, even in very remote areas, and even has a sort of local diplomatic status.

Solution not perceived as ‘foreign’

Interestingly, the programme concept, brought by the CEO of Make Music Matter, Darcy Ataman, is not perceived as a ‘foreign solution’ at all. Local teams have completely adopted it and contribute to its improvement.

This outstanding local ownership seems to me, to be largely due to three factors:

  • A perfect fit of concept to context;
  • Complementary and clear dispatch of the work based on different expertise;
  • Part of a much respected medical infrastructure (Panzi)

Recent collaborations with independent radio stations have proven to be very successful. Printed press is almost non-existent, so radio is the best channel to reach all the regions. The stations have supported by airing the project’s recorded albums along with debates on violence and promotion of the project. These radio stations are receiving more and more calls from listeners when airing the songs – from local communities who want to use them and even more surprisingly, from members of the military who want to advocate for their cause and avoid generalisation.

Photo from Panic and Make Music Matter


Photo from Panzi and Make Music Matter. Supporting victims go GBV
music therapy

Scaling up

The project team is currently finalising the impact assessment of music therapy on survivors, using and adapting tools to cultural specificities, including language:

  • the Harvard trauma test to measure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • the John Hopkins test to measure anxiety and depression

This quantitative analysis will transform the entire project into a powerful, ready-to-scale model. The project has also been tested in rural areas and there are opportunities to try it in other DRC urban and rural hospitals soon. With an incredible local ownership, the team is about to start its exciting journey to scale.

Claire Dusonchet, Innovation Adviser, ELRHA

You can find out more about the project here and follow all the latest updates via their blog.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

Web design by Teamworks