Sunday, June 20, 2010
Saturday June 19, 2010
I arrived in Goma, DRC this week. Yesterday, I spent the day touring HEAL Africa’s facilities and learning about their programs. Among many other things, they run a pediatric HIV/AIDS program that helps 971 children, they run a program called HEALing Arts that assists victims of Gender Based Sexual Violence in recovering psychologically while providing them a means for earning an income, they treat women suffering from fistulas (see: www.endfistula.org ), allowing them to lead healthy and productive lives, and they provide an education to children who are staying at the hospital as well as a number of orphans, children displaced by violent conflict, and Pygmies (an ethnic group that has suffered significantly in DRC).
Since arriving in Goma, I have heard the same sort of stories that led me to come to DRC in 2007: a nine year old girl raped by her neighbor or young boys imprisoned for rape explaining that “they saw something they wanted and decided to just take it – they know plenty of people who have done the same.” While it is discouraging to hear these stories, it is impossible to resist being inspired by the hard-working staff at HEAL Africa. They are treating victims’ wounds—physical and psychological, they are helping them earn an income, they are providing them with legal counsel in order to prosecute perpetrators, and they are helping to care for the victims’ children. It is this holistic approach that has earned HEAL Africa visits and support from organizations and dignitaries from around the world, including Hillary Clinton, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs (Kouchner), Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn through Half the Sky, and Oprah, through her For All Women Registry.
I also met with Papy Shamavu from Wildlife Conservation Society. If HEAL Africa can be said to be operating in one of the most challenging environments for a humanitarian organization, the same can be said about Papy and the rest of the team at Wildlife Conservation Society. They are combating illegal fishing that is done with illegal nets (holes are too small), poison, or dynamite. They are combating the lucrative and illegal timber trade. They are combating poachers. And they are doing all of this while armed militias roam the wilderness areas they are trying to protect. Not only that, they are doing it in a way that is sensitive to the fact that illegal deforestation and illegal fishing are both means for generating an income in a region where extreme poverty is rampant and people need to be able to care for themselves before they will be able to care for the environment. It is because of people like Papy and organizations like WCS that Mountain Gorillas have survived decades or conflict in the Virunga Landscape of Central Africa.
Next week I will begin a workshop with 28 students at the school HEAL Africa supports, plus perhaps another 10 children or so at the hospital. More to come on the workshop later!