HEAL Africa: Woman’s Voices in the Congo

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Although the Congolese war has been described as the bloodiest since World War II, the holistic hospital HEAL Africa is able to reach victims and remain stable due to its strong local ties.  Manuevering under the radar inside the territory, victims of what has been called “the Rape Capital of the World” come to the hospital for trama surgury, healing and a renewed spirit.

The film LUMO was created by the Goma Film Project to highlight one womans journey through the healing process at the HEAL Africa hospital in the Congo. The films trailer (please watch below) gives us a sense of the strong purpose of HEAL Africa.  Lumo received numerous awards including the Human Rights Watch Official Selection and has been featured on CNN, the New York Times, and NPR.

The Goma Film Project summarizes the critical and life changing purpose of HEAL Africa to Congolese women:

“The agonies of war torn Africa are deeply etched in the bodies of women. In eastern Congo, vying militias, armies and bandits use rape as a weapon of terror.

Recently engaged to a young man from her village, 20 year-old Lumo Sinai couldn’t wait to have children and start a family. But when she crossed paths with marauding soldiers who brutally attacked her, she was left with a fistula— a condition that has rendered her incontinent and threatens her ability to give birth in the future. Rejected by her fiancé and cast aside by her family, Lumo found her way to the one place that may save her: a hospital for rape survivors set on the border with Rwanda. HEAL Africa.

Buoyed by the love of the hospital staff, and a formidable team of wise women known to all as “the Mamas,” Lumo and her friends keep the hope of one day resuming their former lives, thanks to an operation that can restore them fully to health. A feisty young woman with a red comb perpetually jutting from her hair, Lumo faces the challenge of recovery with remarkable courage and sass. As she and her friends recover from surgery, they pass the days by gossiping and sharing their dreams of one day finding love.”

The E-Advocate Network interviewed Harper McConnell, the Director of Development with HEAL Africa.  I am deeply moved and inspired by her knowledge and 24-7 dedication to the health of rural Congo and ending the rape epidemic.

E-Advocate Network: HEAL Africa works towards the vision of a holistic medical health in the rural regions of the DR Congo. How are your volunteers and staff on the ground in the Congo working to advance your vision?

HEAL Africa: HEAL Africa has sat at the epicenter of the genocide and war since HEAL began as a hospital in Goma in 1994, founded by a Congolese surgeon, Dr. Jo Lusi and his wife Lyn. Health problems are often the symptom of greater societal ills, so we work outside of the hospital walls.

We are one of the few aid organizations that can cross all rebel territory lines to deliver medicines, train rural nurses, and educate communities through public health seminars. We adamantly believe we must address the root causes provoking poor health.

E-Advocate Network: What approach has HEAL Africa utilized to equip conflict-ridden communities with health strategies?

HEAL Africa: The utter lack of infrastructure makes supplies and services incredibly difficult to deliver. As most people cannot come to the HEAL Africa hospital in Goma, we collaborate with over 56 other rural health centers and larger international health organizations, through training health workers and providing supplies to set up relief action plans for major outbreaks and health crises.

The rural health centers are supplied with training, equipment and medication including malaria treatment, HIV prevention and orthopedic operations and HIV transmission at birth through HEAL Africa.

E-Advocate Network: What are the key health issues that HEAL Africa is currently addressing?

HEAL Africa: At the hospital in Goma, HEAL Africa specializes in fistula repair surgery for women who have developed the condition from either complications during pregnancy and labor or from brutal rape. HEAL Africa addresses orthopedic issue as well. The hospital performs over 1000 operations per year.

In the rural areas HEAL Africa does outreach training and surgery where the surgeons at the hospital in Goma take a several week trip to a remote area to operate and train the nurses and doctors.

The HIV AIDS clinic at the hospital monitors 500 HIV positive children and administers anti-retrovirals. In the rural areas, the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission program administers medicine to women who are HIV positive when they are giving birth to reduce the chance of transmission.

E-Advocate Network: How is HEAL Africa affected by the current upsurge in military action in the Congo?

HEAL Africa: Due to the crisis, HEAL Africa prepared for a cholera outbreak and has been administering cholera treatment in refugee camps and surrounding areas.

The conflict greatly affects HEAL Africa’s development programs in the rural areas. HEAL focuses on development rather than relief, but in times of crisis the focus must be shifted towards relief. This can be discouraging as many of the staff members have seen their hard work torn away in a matter of days, but at the same time they are able to assist the communities in an efficient and relevant manner as they have been connected with them long before the recent upsurge in fighting.

E-Advocate Network: How can we support your vision?

HEAL Africa: You can raise funds and we have two rewarding ways to do this. The escalating conflict has placed a large financial strain our organization as the majority of the medical work is done for free or below cost. You can also just donate on our website.

With your friends, or community organization you can host a party and watch the documentary “Lumo”. This award-winning and engaging documentary follows a women on her journey to the HEAL Africa hospital. Procedes of your purchase of the DVD from the LUMO website will go to us when you use the code HEAL0808 We can equip you with informative materials to teach others about us.

You can also order beautiful Healing Arts products. The Healing Arts program at HEAL Africa teaches patients at the hospital how to sew, read, write, and weave. Healing Arts also collaborates with widows and disabilities groups to produce products that are sold locally and internationally. All participants are paid a good, fair wage, which allows them to support their families. You can go to the Healing Arts website to order.

Learn more about HEAL Africa: HEAL Africa’s Act center has more information and ways to get involved. Readers can also connect with Heal Africa on their Facebook page.

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7 thoughts on “HEAL Africa: Woman’s Voices in the Congo

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