Walking with Women Affected by Gender-Based Violence
Heal My People, a HEAL Africa program, was started in 2003, to address the violence targeted towards women in the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo. Women’s bodies have been the battleground, as soldiers have used rape as a weapon of war to intimidate men and women, to empty villages, and recruit children for their armies. Women have been taken as sex slaves and porters. Damaging a woman’s body and destroying her sense of self affects not only the woman, but also shreds the fabric of the family the village, the entire social fabric. This rampant abuse of human rights has largely gone unchallenged.
Heal My People program manager, Mama Muliri, and two other women began by identifying victims of horrendous rapes, and training local village women to listen compassionately to the victims and refer them to appropriate treatment. In the past eight years, the program has evolved to respond more effectively to the issues that are at the root of the problem. To date, almost 40,000 women have been assisted by Heal My People.
Heal My People helps women who have been raped by providing medical treatment, post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV infection, and psychological and social support. The program connects women and their families to other critical services as well. Women are followed for as long as five years by trained counselors and given access to literacy training, vocational training, and micro-loans so they can rebuild their lives.
Stories of Women Helped through Heal My People
- “Chantal” walked 400 miles (700 km) to get to HEAL Africa. She had been living as a sex slave for years after having been captured. She was shot in the arm, and escaped into the forest, walking and running for seven months, heading for HEAL Africa and Goma. Her arm is being treated before her fistula can be repaired.
- “Francine” is eight, and is also waiting for fistula repair, but she can’t have the surgery until the sexually transmitted diseases she also has have been treated and cured. She has been part of the HEAL Africa community for three months now and has already learned to read. It’s the first school she has ever attended.
- “Esperance” arrived in Goma from Maniema. After she was married she became pregnant and suffered through six days of traumatic labor. The baby died, and she was left with an obstetric fistula. She was rejected by her husband and by her family. For twenty years she lived on the margin of society, unable to participate because of the smell associated with the incontinence from the fistula. HEAL Africa doctors surgically repaired her fistula and she was able to return home two weeks later, cured! What a transformation. Her life is dramatically changed.