Part of a school, church or community group? Check back in Spring 2012 for a downloadable curriculum you can use to educate your group about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the work of HEAL Africa and how to stand with the people of Congo from the other side of the globe. In the meantime, see below for stories of how people just like you have gotten involved in spreading the word about Congo and HEAL Africa.


Art Show for HEAL Africa Utilizing Local Children’s Art

Jessie Sandstrom

I have always had a heart for others less fortunate and have wanted to do something to help for a long time. However I always felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. That changed after reading the book Half the Sky. The author put things in perspective and kept repeating a message throughout that was if you help only one that’s huge. I realized I could do something and so the idea came of doing an art show to help raise money for fistula surgeries in the Congo. When reading the book I was particularly touched by this need.

After thinking of several ideas I landed on having an art show that featured kids art with descriptions in their own words (also written by them). The artwork was great and the descriptions were even better.  A friend donated her loft space for the night, a 1st grade class did the artwork, wine was donated by friends as well as some purchased at a very low cost, raffle items were donated and so we had an event. The night went so well all were touched by the cause and we raised enough money for 4 girls to have surgery. I realized that we all can do something and it doesn’t have to be over the top. My eyes have been spared the gruesome sights, my ears have been spared the gruesome screams and cry’s, my nose has been spared the gruesome smells of death and destruction but my heart has not been spared by  the burden of others. I really hope others will join in and use their resources to do something as well. Once you get the ball rolling for an idea you’ll find that everyone wants to help.  I have amazing friends and family that did just that.  So I would challenge others to look at what you have around you and use it to help others.


College Campus Fundraiser: Mighty Mic Benefit Concert for the Congo

Sarah Gustafson

When I first heard about the crisis in the Congo, I was moved to do something about it. Since 1998, more than 5 million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. Despite this most people in America aren’t aware that there is conflict in Congo. We all hold a piece of Congo with us – our cell phones and computers, the electronic devices that help us provide high-tech care in American hospitals, are the source of (and funding for) much of the conflict and suffering in the Congo. Rebel groups in eastern Congo methodically use rape as a weapon. Women are ostracized and families and communities are torn apart.

Last year, I decided to get involved by helping to organize the Mighty Mic 2010 Concert for the Congo, which was funded by UCLA and held at the Ackerman Grand Ballroom. As we were doing research, I came across the HEAL Africa website. I was so impressed with the success that this organization had while working with communities in the hardest-hit areas. The hospital in the eastern Congo repairs fistulas caused by rape or failed childbirth. HEAL Africa’s passionate work goes far beyond providing medical attention in emergencies. HEAL Africa has local workers who deeply understand the communities they work in and provide countless services to women and their communities. I wanted to show my community the work that HEAL Africa was doing and how we could do something to help them.

I was very pleasantly surprised when Judy Anderson (HEAL Africa’s Executive Director) responded to the email I had sent to request a speaker for the concert. When I told my fellow students that the director of the Heal My People program, Mama Muliri, was coming to speak to us, the room erupted in cheers! Mama Muliri’s program has helped identify 30,000 victims of rape and provide assistance to them. I was truly honored that Mama Muliri would endure days of traveling alone, and come to the United States for the first time. It was a life-changing experience for me and all of the people who attended the concert. We recruited both local and Congolese bands to attract more attendees. We also provided educational materials at the concert. Many other UCLA student groups came to the concert to support this cause. After a night of music, Mama Muliri’s speech was the grand finale. Her stories of tragedy turned into hope uplifted the audience. We were able to fund Mama Muliri’s flight and raised additional money for HEAL Africa through donations at the concert.

As a medical student, I am continuing to advocate and spread awareness about HEAL Africa’s work at UCLA. I joined the Global Health Selective through my school, where I am learning more about what I can do as a future physician to help with global problems. I am also a coordinator for UCLA’s chapter of Physicians for Human Rights. My project for this year is to put on lectures and continue fundraising for HEAL Africa.

My goal is to get the medical community more involved in thinking about ways to help women in the Congo. When I worked with Mama Muliri, she told me that although I may not be going to the Congo, I can help her with my voice and my mind. This is a piece of advice that will guide me throughout life.


High School Senior Fundraiser

Gwenn Gideon raises funds for HEAL Africa

Gwenn Gideon is an amazing high school senior.  She’s a young woman with a vision and a “can-do” spirit.  Her parents always said to her that no matter how old you are, you can do something.  “Take a stand.  If you start something and follow it through others will get behind you.”  At age 13 Gwenn read The Diary of Ann Frank- it changed her life.  She made a commitment to take a stand, and address issues of injustice.

Her first project was to do a dance benefit for the purpose of bringing a Sudanese mother and child to the States.  Her goal was accomplished.  At age 15 she started a local theatre called “Act2Act” for the purpose of raising awareness about human rights abuses in the world.  She heard about the Laramie Project, did the play and raised funds.  This year she read about HEAL Africa and the work they are doing to address sexual violence in Eastern Congo.  Once again, Gwenn decided to take a stand.  She presented a goal to Act2Act, to raise $11,000 to build a safe house for the women of Congo through HEAL Africa.  In November 2010, she presented a check to HEAL Africa of $11,000 to build a safe house.  The house is now built and women come daily for counseling, vocational training, legal services, life skills, and economic empowerment (business loans).  As a result of Gwenn’s vision, hundreds of young girls and women are being restored to wholeness.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”  Gwenn is living this out…and she hasn’t even graduated from high school yet!   I hope you are as inspired by Gwenn’s action as I am.


A 2011 interview with Gwenn Gideon

What motivated you to get involved?

I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” when I was 13.  She was the strongest human being I’d ever read about.  She was only a couple of years older than me. She became my role model.

After reading “The Diary of Ann Frank” and also a story about a Sudanese woman and her child, for my Bat Mitzvah project (13 years old), I decided to raise money to bring this Sudanese woman and her baby to the States.  I raised funds by having a dance benefit.  At the beginning, the hardest challenge was that no one took me seriously.

What happened after that experience?

2 years ago I created a local theatre called “Act2Act”.  The objective of Act2Act is to raise awareness about human rights abuses in the world.   Last year I heard about the Laramie Project, and decided to do this play.  I didn’t realize the levels of homophobia that existed.  It left a big impact on my town (Rhinebeck, NY).  This year I heard about HEAL Africa, through  the website, and decided to raise funds via the play to build a Safe House for HEAL Africa, in Congo.  As a result of the play this summer we raised $11,000, to build a safe house and provide staff support.

What is your goal after high school?

I graduate from High School in June and want to pursue the theatre and psychology in college.  I hope to find someone who will keep Act2Act going in my town, and hopefully bring the vision of Act2Act to my campus, wherever that is.

One of Anne Franks quotes near the end of her book was “in spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart”


Birthday Party turned Benefit for HEAL Africa

Cassie Kirby

I became involved with the cause of the Congolese people about five years ago after watching a special dedicated to them on CNN. I could not believe what was going on in the DRC; the violence, rape, and poverty were at a level I had never witnessed before and I knew instantly, that this was a journey I must take – I could not turn the other cheek. In most circumstances, people want to do something to help, but no one knows quite what to do, and that was the position I found myself in. I began by researching the history, war, people, and organizations of the Congo, and finally found the one I wanted to assist and affiliate myself with: HEAL Africa.

HEAL Africa appealed to me because it was an all-encompassing effort led for the Congolese people by the Congolese people. There weren’t particular religious or political associations controlling it; this was a grass-roots effort to not only HEAL the community, but one that was consciously working to improve it and educating others for prevention.

I decided on a ladies luncheon and silent auction during the summer time to start raising awareness and monies for the program. First step, set a goal. Second step, put it in motion. I called upon local people and businesses that my friends, family, and I used to donate items and services for the silent auction. It was a team effort, everyone was involved. My daughter and sister-in-law did paintings for the auction, my niece made jewelry, my yoga teacher donated lessons, my friends gave some of their season tickets for football games, my mother and grandmother made the food, we borrowed tables and chairs from neighbors, I used my own china and dishes. We did a power point presentation with pictures and statistics from the DRC set to music to introduce others to the magnitude of the conflict. Getting creative really helped spread the word and kept my overhead low.

That was year one, and over that past four years, the tradition has continued to spread in many different ways each year. I have given additional luncheons with silent auctions, transformed birthday parties into fundraising opportunities, and even have run a half-marathon to raise money. Opportunities lie everywhere within our reach if we have the courage to seize them. Even though we are advocating and raising awareness to fight a sexual violence epidemic that couldn’t be more serious, it is key to continually diversify, keep it interesting, new, and fun. Like the survivors at the HEAL Africa hospital, we have to have an unquenchable spirit to continue the work that must be done to end the violence and bring peace to the Congolese people.

As a person that didn’t know where to begin a few short years ago, believe me, that all you have to do is begin, to make a difference. We have raised over twenty thousand dollars for the fight against sexual violence and educated countless people. Third step, imagine the possibilities.

With love and hope for peace always, 
Cassie


Raising Local Awareness for Global Change – Fourth Level

Andrea Schreffler

Andrea Schreffler was on the Internet reading news from what might as well have been another planet. What she was reading about was on a continent to which she had never been with a people she did not know, but it caused her her heart to freeze. She read that in the mess of upheaval and war in the Congo women were being abused and raped at a rate of what equates to 48 an hour.

Andrea has recently been able to go public with her own experience of being raped. She believes this is why the story hit a nerve. A pastor’s daughter, Andrea has been exposed to a wide variety of opportunities to participate in helping the marginalized in society. After exposure to the atrocities toward women in the DRC, she knew this is where she had to focus her energies and invest her time and effort.

Andrea says: “I started to do research on different humanitarian groups and HEAL Africa stood out. It is an indigenous helps group. They provide a large range of programs. But the one that stood out to me for immediate care to women was the safe house they provide. They have 28 right now and see 4-500 women a month. The houses offer clinical care, legal services, community integration, spiritual help and counseling to help women see they are victims [and there is help for them.]”

She went to work on creating a plan. She asked close friends to meet with her to see if they would help. They brainstormed, discussed resources and ways to raise money. They created a website and mission statement. They decided on a name, The Fourth Level, laying out the teams vision to respond to the needs of horrifically abused women.

Andrea hopes to do her part to help raise awareness that the women caught in crisis are not supported at the first three levels.

To do this, she and her friends are meeting at a local coffee house and presenting programs which outline the problem. They are using concerts and art auctions to raise money. The goal? To raise $20,000 for a safe house. To see their progress, visit www.fourthlevel.org