HEAL Africa: Woman’s Voices in the Congo


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.


Chris Klug: Ride of His Life

After years of training as a professional snowboarder and exteme sport athlete headed for the Olympics, Chris Klug developed Primary Sclerosing Cholangitits.   The clocked ticked for six years while he waited for a liver transplant until July 28th of 2000.  His sport and his drive then took on a new purpose when life gave him a second chance.  In 2004, Chris founded the Chris Klug Foundation for Organ Donor Awareness.

E-Advocate Network: When you received your Olympic gold medal you became a champion to athletes around the world. Now you help save lives as well. What was you inspiration?

Chris Klug: I’ll never forget my six years on a transplant waiting list, hoping and praying for a second chance. My life was put on hold and I did not know what lay ahead. 100,000 people across the US are currently waiting for solid organ transplants, sadly seventeen die daily waiting. Chris Klug Foundation’s goal is to “Eliminate the wait.”

In a fun way we’re hosting events across the country to educate everyone about the importance of organ and tissue donation. I always loved snowboarding. Through snowboarding I’ve been provided a tremendous platform to help make a difference to those waiting for a second chance. Every chance I get, I wave the banner of organ donation. I hope to compete in my third Winter Olympics in 2010 and help represent the transplant community and encourage everyone to register as an organ donor and provide hope to those going through the transplant process.

E-Advocate Network: Was there a key point after your surgery that you remember knowing you were going to rise to such incredible athletic heights?

Chris Klug: As soon as I awoke from my six hour liver transplant surgery I felt like a new engine got dropped in me. I knew I was going to make it back. Ironically the competitive snowboarding season following my transplant was one of my best. I was on the World Cup podium four times and won a National Championship. I attribute this to the fact that I was racing for my life just a few months before and now I was racing my snowboard again. It truly put things into perspective for me and made me realize how fortunate I was to have received a second chance to do what I love.

E-Advocate Network: What are the primary goals of the Chris Klug foundation and how did your personal experience shape those goals?

Chris Klug: Sharing the life-saving message of organ and tissue donation with everyone. Through our Donor Dudes events on every high school and college campus across the country, CKF hopes to educate young people about the importance of sharing their donation decision with their family.

E-Advocate: Signing up to be a donor can impact the lives of many. How can someone help spread this message through your foundation and sign up?

Chris Klug: Get involved, team up with CKF and host a Donor Dudes event at your workplace or on your campus. Share the message with your friends and family. Together let’s eliminate the wait.

E-Advocate Network: Your key event is the Summit for Life. How does this event further your personal message?

Summit for Life Logo

Chris Klug: First, the Summit for Life is an awareness and educational event. Secondly it is the primary fund raiser for CKF, so we can continue our organ donation outreach through our Donor Dudes events.

E-Advocate Network: When someone becomes a racer or sponsors a racer, how does this impact the lives of those in need of a transplant?

Chris Klug: Sponsoring a racer is an opportunity to share the message of organ donation. The funds raised from S4L racer pledges help CKF continue our important donor education outreach. CKF will host twenty-five donor awareness events in 2008 promoting donation at events such as the Winter X Games, Vans Warped Tour, FIS Snowboard World Cup and high school and college campuses across the country. We hope to double the number of Donor Dudes events in 2009.

Summit for Life, Aspen, Colorado.

The Summit for Life is an annual event with over 500 climbers making their way up Aspen Mountain at night.  They climb 3,267 vertical feet, in the dark and through fairly treacherous  terrain.  The following pictures are from the mountain top finish line during my visit to Summit for Life in 2009.  It was one of the most inspiring charity events I have attended in Colorado. All abilities were welcomed, championed and celebrated.

Summit for Life finishline 1

Summit for Life finishline 3

Summit For Life Finishline2

Visit the Chris Klug Foundation and learn more about donor awareness.

1/7/2012 – updated to reflect pictures from the event.

Gavin Griffin: Pink Hair

In this post, professional poker player Gavin Griffin and the nonprofit Realities for Children discuss how poker tournaments can be a platform for philanthropy. Gavin Griffin is a professional poker player and philanthropist who dies his hair pink for breast cancer awareness at professional poker tournaments. Realities for Children runs a long standing poker tournament to raise funds for children affected by abuse.

E-Advocate Network: By dying your hair pink for the events, did you expect the cancer awareness it would create?

Gavin: I expected to create some awareness, but winning the tournament and everything that followed it was a huge boost. I was on the cover of CardPlayer, the biggest magazine in poker, and a couple of other magazines as well. Every interview I’ve done since then has had some mention of the Avon Foundation or breast cancer awareness. It’s been really great to be a part of raising awareness for breast cancer.

E-Advocate Network: Why is breast cancer awareness close to your heart?

Gavin: In 2004, my girlfriend, Kristen, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She survived and is living a happy and healthy life now. If she hadn’t caught her cancer so early, I never would have met her and my life would be much different.

E-Advocate Network: “How do you plan on creating cancer awareness in the future?”

Gavin: In the future, both Kristen and I plan to continue being advocates for breast cancer awareness by donating to charity, speaking about it in interviews, and perhaps in the future by hosting charity events.

Gavin died his hair pink while he won the Triple Crown, which is a first place win at the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour, and the European Poker Tour. These are the three largest poker tournaments in the world. The “hole-cam” allows viewers to see hidden cards live on television, and helps to bring a large television audience to these events.  By having pink hair on the cover of Cardplayer he also spread breast cancer awareness to an additional 100,000 readers.

Realities for Children is a nonprofit in Colorado which holds poker tournaments as its primary fundraiser for its Triumph Award Scholarship Program.

Realities for Children to Gavin: Poker and charities seem to go together. Do you view the poker community as charitable and where do you see the future between the two going?

Gavin Griffin: I don’t think that as a whole the poker community is charitable. Mostly this is because of the nature of our profession. I think that is presented with a cause directly they will give money to it, but most won’t give time or effort to promote a charity. There are obvious exceptions such as Jennifer Harman, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Gordon. I would like to see more poker players take up causes and get involved with charities. I’m not sure how we will accomplish this, but I look forward to a time when more poker players are aware of the problems outside their own world and do something about them.

E-Advocate Network to Realities for Children: With this in mind, what was the most successful aspect of your event to help abused and neglected children?

Realities for children: It was fun. The event was not for professional players. It let us reach out to a new donor base that we would not know otherwise. We met new supporters because of the social nature of the event, and these relationships could be cultivated from there.

E-Advocate Network to Realities for Children: How did you first create your event?

Realities for Children: The time spent to create a charity poker tournament event is important. Historically, a non-profit could create a poker tournament and take a percentage of the profits. The challenge now is to create an event that is not considered illegal gambling. To be considered a gambling event you must remove one of three aspects: chance, reward, or cost. We removed cost by making the donation optional. We had to work with the gaming department and the sheriff’s office to ensure that the event was correct. Now we have a format.

E-Advocate Network to Realities for Children: Did the format effect the success of the event?

Realities for Children: No. What we did to ensure the event’s success was to create a high end event at the Hyatt hotel with a higher entry donation. We brought in sponsors for the event for added donations. Another aspect that we added was a “blind-a-thon” in which entrants would get pledges for each blind level that they get to.

E-Advocate Network to Realities for Children: What cause does your poker tournament support?

Realities for children: The poker tournament helps abused and neglected children as they grow into adulthood. The event was created to fund our Triumph Award Scholarship for young adults. It is the crown jewel of our program and it is designed to break the cycle of abuse. Children in our program reach personal goals and then receive collegiate support that acknowledges their accomplishments. They also receive a mentor who acts as a role model through young adulthood. The children who we work with are amazing youth who deserve support into their adulthood.

Visit the Realities for Children Website

Erica Sandoval: Inspired by Unity

Unity, the 7 year old daughter of Erica Sandoval, was the inspiration for her non-profit Exceptionally Excited Kids. Erica is an on-line champion who recruited over 5,000 people to send emails to congress in support of autism legislation. Her daughter is a champion as well, overcoming the obstacles that autism creates.

E-Advocate Network: How do you juggle being a the head of a nonprofit, an autism activist and navigating the healthcare system for your daughter?

Erica: My inspiration comes from my 7 year old daughter Unity, who was diagnosed with autism when she was 2 years old. Her diagnosis was extremely hard for me at first. What I knew about autism was what I saw in movies like “Rain Man” and I thought there is no way my daughter has that! After the acceptance kicked in, I became obsessed with learning everything I could about autism and searched everywhere for programs and support for myself and Unity.

There was virtually no activities classes or support groups except for the occasional meeting at her school. Unity’s previous school was an incredible support for me and I served on their board for almost three years so I could give something back to them. Later, after still struggling to find appropriate resources for us, I started a nonprofit organization with my friend Sue, who also has a child with a disability. We offer exactly what I needed when Unity was first diagnosed, and still need today, which is various means of support including exercise, socializing, family support and more.

E-Advocate Network: What were the challenges and highlights of starting your own non-profit?

Erica: There are many of both. The biggest challenge is funding. We are waiting for our 501(c)3 to come in and once we get that a lot more doors will open. It is in the government’s hands… As of now, we rent a room in a local gym, but they only give us 2 hours a week. That is nowhere near enough! We desperately need our own building.

There is such a need for the services we provide; there are over 3,000 children in my town of Hemet alone that qualify for special education, and 2 hours a week will not do! We have been working like crazy giving presentations in and around our community and we have a few coming up that could really be promising. Otherwise, we are stuck waiting for our nonprofit status that will allow us to receive federal grants and such.

One of our board members actually spoke with Mary Bono and she has agreed to speak with the IRS on our behalf to help move along our application! Isn’t that amazing?! In the mean time, practicing giving presentations about EEK is great. Especially for me because I have an enormous fear of speaking in public. Everyone in EEK teases me that I am starting to “come out of my shell!” Which is our phrase to represent a turtle coming out of a shell. The turtle is our logo.

Finally, the benefits are tremendous. I don’t even know how to put them into words without crying. My whole view on the world and other people has changed so drastically. All I can say is that this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing with my life, and I will continue to do this work for the rest of my life. EEK is my family forever.

E-Advocate Network: Your daughter inspired the founding of EEK. How has EEK changed her life as well as others?

Erica: EEK has changed Unity’s life in many ways. She is much more open and seeks out friendships whereas she wouldn’t before. She has learned a lot about being patient and waiting her turn to participate. My other daughter Eden, (who is 4) also has had a lot of benefit from EEK. At first I was worried about the questions she might ask me about the other kids; such as “why does he look like that” or “why does she talk that way?” It’s amazing because she has never once asked me anything like that.

I realized she only sees the person. She does not see anything “wrong.” She accepts people as people. That is the greatest gift! I have heard lots of other children ask those questions before, about Unity even, and it’s only natural… but Eden doesn’t see the differences, she only sees that we are all the same.