Justine and HEAL Africa

After three weeks in Congo and spending quite a bit of time with the organization, I have to say a word about HEAL Africa.

The war in Congo touches all, women, children and men, young and old, military or civilian.  HEAL Africa's mission is to ease their suffering and help them take control of their circumstances by providing holistic health and trauma care.

HEAL Africa is unique in Congo for it is Congolese founded and run.  Dr. Jo Lusi and his British wife, Lyn Lusi have been dedicated to serving the Congolese people since 1971.  They founded HEAL Africa in 1998 (check date) and have been unwavering in their commitment to the people of North Kivu.

The most important thing that HEAL Africa brings the people of Congo, however, is hope.  Hope that there is a way to end their suffering, hope that they can learn a skill, create a business and provide for their families, hope that they can connect with others who are suffering similar circumstances and hope that they are not forgotten and that someone cares.

While traveling north to Kayna, I met a woman, Justine, in the HEAL Africa house who had come to seek treatment for a fistula.  The woman had walked 7km to meet with a counselor and was quickly referred to Goma.  She had been raped many years prior and had been suffering since.  She was meek, soft spoken and isolated, sitting in the far corner of a room, not interacting with others.

Justine was taken in an ambulance to Goma.  I saw her off from Kayna and was rewarded a tiny smile as she drove away.

Back in Goma, I was walking through the hospital grounds and saw Justine again.  I almost didn't recognize her for the huge smile on her face.  In only a week, her entire demeanor had changed.  Justine beamed with hope.   Thank you to all at HEAL Africa for your support of my project and dedication to transforming the lives of the people of the DRC.

*fistula is a break in the wall separating the vagina and the bowels and is often caused by severe or gang rape, or extremely difficult birth.  The most serious side effect of fistula is incontinence, a continual leaking of urine and feces from the vaginal opening, however there is often pain and weakness resulting from infection.  Women with fistula report having to change rags 10 times a day and 2-3 times a night.

FARDC - Congo's Government troops


I've never seen a country so full of soldiers.  Everywhere you turn, every road you walk down, there are armed men.  Rwandan soldiers invited by the Congolese government, Congolese government troops, Nkunda's rebel army (CNDP), Mai Mai militia and Hutu rebels.

I've been shooting for Reuters for the past few days, searching out different factions, trying to get a sense of what is happening and where this conflict is going.  We're all confused.  What we do know is that they were all at once sworn enemies and putting them all together seems like a dangerous proposition.

Mother soldiers - DRC

January 28, 2009

Congolese women

The women of Congo continue to amaze me.  I met this group of female soldiers while traveling the backroads of the DRC with a Reuters journalist.  We had gone to look for troop movements in the area and stopped in the small village of Mushake to check in with the FARDC soldiers posted at this important crossroads.  Mushake used to be a CNDP (Nkunda's rebel army) stronghold and was the site of an assassination attempt that kicked off the last great Congolese war.

While speaking with some soldiers, a pickup full of soldiers, Rwandans with FARDC, pulled up, dropping these women to wait for another vehicle.  They were tough, smoking cigarettes and carrying AK-47s.  I started shooting when I realized they also had small babies on their backs.  As I spoke with them, they showed me their babies with pride...

So many questions... What must these children have been through and with an impending war, what will they see?  How do these women survive and care for their babies when they are rarely paid and a paltry amount when they are (the last figure I heard was  government soldiers were being paid $27/month)?

As I walked away, the woman looked around furtively, then asked under her breath for something some biscuits (cookies) for her baby... I gave her what I had.