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Wherever there is suffering, there is a need to express oneself and music is one of the few constants in every culture.

In the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), there also persists a culture of stigma, created by the widespread practice of rape. Whether it is used as an intentional strategy for paralyzing a community or ethnic group, as a tolerated practice by a wide variety of armed groups, or by intimate partner violence, it has propelled Panzi Hospital and Foundations, alongside Make Music Matter, to end this brutality against women and young girls. As noted, the language used to describe the many factions and circumstances that define sexual violence can be very subtle and nuanced, similar to the output of stigma produced by it.

As the Panzi Foundation and Make Music Matter team prepare to release the next album associated with our music therapy program at Panzi’s aftercare facility, Maison Dorcas, I have been reflecting on the incredible breadth of material. The testimonies are aggregated in every lyric, melody and drumbeat. Within these songs I continue to learn about how the issues of conflict and poverty adjacent to sexual violence contribute to the refracted nature of stigma more than by any other means.

A standout track from the new record is a song called “All Eyes On Me” – a song that deftly speaks to a particular type of stigma associated with our artists/survivors who are perceived by various community members as living a preferential life. The lyrics simultaneously reference the potential stigma associated by someone receiving treatment at Maison Dorcas (including our music therapy program) while recounting the trauma they have endured.

Chorus:

All eyes on me
All eyes on me
All eyes on me
I don’t know what it’s about

Verse 1

All eyes on me
I don’t know if
It’s making me down or
For making me up
All eyes on me
They see I’m in paradise
Because they see the place I live
They think that my life is easy
And I sleep behind the pain
I ask for even one minute of peace
Because I don’t have a place I can hide

Other songs written by the children speak of stigma that results in being rejected by their parents and community:

Chorus 1:

If you reject me,
Who is going to love me?

Verse 1:

I’m your child
Or a child for another person?
If you beat me without reason
I will be hurting so much

Chorus 2:

Where I’m supposed to go?
Who am I supposed to love?

If you reject me,
Who is going to love me

The social, parental and communal isolation endured by survivors of sexual violence may come in many forms, but its contribution to the destruction of civil society is equal. By taking the time to understand and legitimize each articulation of stigma, we have a greater chance of eradicating it. Songs such as “All Eyes On Me” and others like it, give caregivers the opportunity to glean and identify the depth and different faces of stigma that may have previously gone unnoticed.

Cover art for Panzi Foundation and Make Music Matter album. "The Criminal Father"
Cover art for Panzi Foundation and Make Music Matter album. “The Criminal Father”

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