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HEAL Africa provides holistic care for the people of Democratic Republic of Congo
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Lyn Lusi, one of the founders of HEAL Africa, shares an account of the events of one day at the hospital in Goma.

Today was a really good day.

Lyn LusiThe surgeons from Wisconsin have just picked up their bags to go home after a long day. The good news was that they repaired the burns scars on Jeanne's face. She has been waiting eight months for a plastic surgeon and today was her day.  These surgeons are very skilful and they are pleased with the result.

Jeanne told me she can testify to the date and the time – 5pm on a Sunday in September 2005 - when the 106th Brigade and the Interahamwe fought in her village.  She was carrying her 18 month old daughter. Her neighbors fled, but the shooting was too fierce for her to run, so she tried to hide. Five men raped her.  When they left the hut, she hid under the bed with her little girl.  They came back with other soldiers, looking for her. When they did not find her, they set fire to the house.  She tried to run at the last minute, but the burning hut collapsed on top of her. Her baby died, and she was severely burned on her head, face and arms.  But all the people of the village were running in the bush, so she got no medical care for many days.  Her husband was forced to join the army, and she does not know where her oldest child is – somewhere with her brother in law who fled in another direction.  Remaking Jeanne's face is one problem solved; but how will she ever rebuild her life? 

Lives and communities destroyed are part of the daily catalogue of tragedies in this part of Eastern Congo.  We read them in the daily OCHA SitRep.  A few of the seriously damaged survivors make it to our hospital.  And on a good day, someone leaves us healed who would otherwise have died. Like 60 year old Odile.  She went home a couple of days ago, standing tall on her crutches. After raping her, the soldiers shot her through the knee. It was not possible to save her leg.  She now has an artificial leg, and she went home with some trade goods to earn a living for herself. Her dignity and courage make her very beautiful.  That was a good day.

It was a real joy today to hold André's hand for the first time.  He has suffered terrible pain from burned hands.  This cheeky ten-year old would swear that he had already had his dressings changed.  Once he told me the nurses had no time to change his dressings, and had sent him away.  So to come and hold my hand voluntarily means the burns are healed, and the pain is finished.  But I wonder if he will ever heal inside. It was his stepmother who burned his hands. She held them down in boiling water because she believed he had stolen 100 francs from her (20 cents). A tragedy like this brings home to me the desperation that comes with extreme poverty.  In Goma, 45 households out of 100 live on $50 or less for a month, for the whole family.  This is the scandal of Congo: such a rich country, attracting predators from all the nations of the world, but with the majority of the people living in grinding poverty.

And another good thing that happened today: I found the missing scissors!  There are 112 women waiting here today for fistula repair surgery.  This tear between the vagina and the bladder can happen to women who have suffered gang rape and torture, and to women who have gone through prolonged obstructed labor without any medical help. With a fistula, they leak urine constantly. The repair is a long and difficult surgery, and we had only two sets of instruments. So if the surgeon is out on a fistula safari in the interior, patients in the Goma hospital have to wait.  The solution is to make up four new sets of instruments.  I found all of them locally except some very special Matarasso scissors.  These I ordered from England and had them sent out by courier. But they cost $500 each, and if we declared their real value, it would attract thieves. So on the packet, they wrote: Gift: surgical scissors.  Days went by, and the scissors did not arrive.  My husband, Jo Lusi, is the orthopedic surgeon here and he repairs club feet – another delicate surgery.  I was driving in with him in the morning and he said: "These people in York are really generous; they just sent me a gift of some really great scissors."  I'm sorry, Jo, your loss is my gain!

I really enjoyed this afternoon. I went to the closing meeting of the counselors' training. These are 60 women chosen by their communities, who will work with us in the villages of North Kivu to identify and help women who are survivors of rape.  These courageous counselors have passion and compassion: they walk for days to reach the traumatized women left in the wake of the fighting.  They are not trained in universities, but they can read and write, they are wise and they live alongside the women they help.  They pick up the pieces and help to put their broken communities back together again.  I am constantly amazed by their courage and the healing effect of their friendship and wisdom.

So it's time to go home.  It is dark and a thunderstorm is receding north. As I wait at the crossroads, in the distance I can see the red glow of the volcano reflected in the thunderhead.  There is a flash of forked lightening behind the volcano, and it reminds me of Lord of the Rings.  There is a striking beauty here, despite the imminent threat of another eruption. We pray for peace in the region; we continue to hope despite the dire predictions of political analysts.  The courage and resilience of the people we treat and work with every day prove it is not a vain hope.  Tomorrow also will be a good day.

-- Lyn Lusi, HEAL Africa

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