You are viewing an archived version of HEAL Africa. - To view the current site, click here

HEAL Africa provides holistic care for the people of Democratic Republic of Congo
Home »

War is a health issue

Congo today is linked to the western world by cell phones and computers, coffee and coltan. The ongoing violence in northeastern Congo is aimed at civilians, to clear them from mining areas which are being protected by various military groups who export coltan, gold, diamonds and other precious minerals with impunity, without regulation or care for the local residents and without paying taxes to support a working government.

HEAL Africa’s holistic program, Heal My People, is seeking to address the violence targeted towards women. Mama Muliri and two other women began by identifying victims of horrendous rapes in 2003, and training local village women to listen compassionately and refer to appropriate treatment. The stories have been widely told. In the past seven years the programs have changed to respond more closely to the issues that are at the root of the problem. (Well, kind of. The minerals issue which is the real root of the continued conflict in eastern Congo must be solved by Congolese and international pressure on all the participants.)

Heal My People began to address issues of gender and justice and created a curriculum for leaders of communities beginning in 2007. Access to information about the law and discussions about how the law and customs, traditions meet or conflict have been key to a beginning change in culture. Working with traditional tribal chiefs, political leaders, and ordinary mothers and fathers in a village, discussing proverbs, beliefs, wisdom books and the law can open minds and offer new choices. Learning to map a conflict or other conflict transformation skills, mediation and listening skills have helped some communities make changes that will influence their futures. Critical analysis skills, participation by leaders of all faith groups, the involvement of lawyers and judges and the improvement of the legal system along with access to legal counsel—all of these are occurring in Wamama Simameni houses. Women and children are learning that they do have rights under the Constitution of Congo. Teens are learning to be peer group educators in civil rights issues.

A key issue is economics of course. How can a woman pay for her delivery, or buy food, or pay school fees for her children without a way to earn income? To address this need HEAL Africa started Tungaane Kwa Mokopo (TKM) which translates as Credit Together. These micro credit groups are producing amazing results for women. Village associations are grouped together. Criteria for receiving and paying back a loan are set. A governing board is selected, with representation from the association, from the Wamama Simameni house, and the Nehemiah Committee in the village. Proposals are submitted. Loans are issued with 6 months to pay back and 2% interest. Each 25th of month women in each association pay back their loans with a 98% return rate. If you don’t belong to an association, there are provisions to be sponsored—by your employer, by your faith group leader, or by a friend who does belong. There are waiting lists of women. This is a sustainable program. The money stays in the community. This is a cash-only economy. The day the loans are repaid in cash, the money is re-issued to the next person on the list. Half of the interest pays the TKM committee and the Wamama Simameni committee to manage the program, while the other half reverts to new loans. The first six months in Maniema made $15,000 in interest. The Netherlands’ government grant to HEAL Africa has gotten this started. People are learning the power of loans, savings and interest. Power to the people of Congo!

Mama Muliri Founder of HEAL my PeopleMama Muliri is in the US this month, and has talked with students at UCLA, health professionals at the U. of Washington “War is a health issue” Global Health conference, Seattle University (May 2), and at the Interagency Gender Working Group brown bag lunch on May 5th in Washington DC. She has led the program that has now identified, listened to and referred to appropriate medical treatment for over 30,000 women.

“We have changed our idea about how to treat the women. We began with medical and psychosocial accompaniment. Now we’re working with the communities to re-integrate the women fully”… The words being used are changing. Women who’ve had treatment don’t want to be branded or stigmatized. They want more than anything else to return healed to their villages, their families, to their community. Mama Muliri and the teams of Heal My People in North Kivu and Maniema are no longer even calling them “survivors”. Women who’ve had surgery return to their villages with experience they can now share with others. They bring back skills and have been to the big city. They are connected to the counselors in Goma by the village counselors, a network which now spreads over two provinces, the size of Washington State. These women work with the families of the returning women to enhance the return, so that there is no blame, shame or stigmatization attached to the women when they return. The counselors also work with community leaders to ensure that from the pulpits and mosques the message is also: what happened was not the choice of the woman. Nor is a child born of rape to be singled out. They did not choose to be raped or born. Each woman and each child must be accepted. The country cannot heal if a generation of children is stigmatized; they will become the next militias.

You can hear Mama Muliri, translated into english by Judy Anderson, talk about HEAL Africa’s Heal My People program here. Listen to the Mama Muliri interview in Lingala

Share HEAL Africa with your friends.