Each month in our newsletter, we spotlight a different HEAL Africa staff member. Below you will find a collection of stories from that series. Read about the committed, inspiring people at every level of the organization that are the heart behind HEAL Africa’s work.
An Interview with HEAL Africa’s Noëlla NYANGEZI
My name is Noëlla NYANGEZI, and I am 35.
HEAL AFRICA is like a second husband to me. My husband walked away in 2002 to be with another woman, and has left me with 4 children to feed, clothe and educate. I myself have only studied up to the fifth year of primary school. In 2005, I was employed as a counselor in the project Heal My People, which cares for sexual violence survivors. Our work was sensitive as we were constantly in touch with people who counted on us for everything: food, clothes, advice and healing. We were committed to understand and love them. However, I had to leave the project when the funding came to an end in the area I was working.
Since 2008, with another 3 co-workers, I work in the HEAL Africa kitchen. Feeding people provides satisfaction. We prepare two meals a day : in the morning we serve some porridge and for lunch we cook maize paste with some beans or sometimes, with small peas. Our office is quite different as our computer is actually a wood fire, our data to be treated are our pots and pans, the wood, the food to be prepared, water, plates etc.
The impact of our work is felt when the patients for whom we prepare some food come and tell us that they enjoyed what they had or that they are now full.
There is no stress in our “office”. But sometimes I feel bad when a patient tells me the food served gave him/her a stomach ache. This is when I feel discouraged when I recall the enthusiasm we had preparing the food. My secret for making food is : to cook something delicious, one needs first to love the people they are cooking for.
I am part of the Ushindi choir. Ushindi is a Swahili word meaning to overcome. It is a choir made by a few HEAL Africa staff and some patients. I sing to thank God and the choir makes us more familiar with the patients who join us. Singing is also a way to get more physical, moral and spiritual strength.
I repeat it again, HEAL Africa is like a second husband to me as it provides me with all that my first husband used to give me. HEAL provides for the study fees for my children, feeds my family and gives me friends. This is why I love HEAL Africa and will not ask for a separation or divorce with the organization.
An Interview with HEAL Africa Doctor Eulalie Vindu
It was not easy for Eulalie Vindu to become a doctor. But she was strong enough to overcome all the obstacles that face a Congolese woman when she desires her own career. She attended university in Goma, specializing in the care of children with AIDS, and was trained by South Africans. The 38year-old has worked for HEAL Africa since 2003.
HA: Doctor Vindu why did you want to become a doctor?
Vindu: I was born in the little town Butembo in Eastern Congo. The nearest hospital where our family could get treatment was 15 kilometers away from home. Transportation is always very difficult in the rural area of our country. So it became quite clear to me that we needed more doctors in Congo, and I wanted to be one of them. I am very interested in helping the poor, so I am very happy with my job at HEAL Africa.
HA: Many Congolese women prefer to become nurses instead of doctors. Why did you choose a career as a doctor?
Vindu: Well, a nurse stays very close to the patient, almost next to his bed. But a doctor also goes outside the hospital to talk to people, to raise their awareness of how to avoid certain illnesses. As a doctor, you can communicate with people in the rural areas, you can warn community leaders if you see a problem such as an epidemic arising. The work of a doctor is more complex, and I like this.
HA: What was the most surprising experience in your work life?
Vindu: When I started working, I was really surprised by the behavior of many rich people. They always want to be treated better and quicker than others. When they had to line up, they demanded to be given preference over others. Our poor patients at HEAL Africa are all treated the same. This satisfies me.
HA: You are working with children who are HIV positive. What does that mean for you personally?
Vindu: I am very concerned and saddened that the Congolese government has not done enough to avoid the transmission of the virus from the mother to the child. 95 percent of the children with the virus got it from their parents. Imagine—they are innocent children! If the government would do its job, new generations would not have to suffer from AIDS.
HA: What do you expect from the government?
Vindu: I expect the government to pay for the drugs and the treatment needed to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. But here in Congo, it is even difficult to find money for standard vaccinations for children. In the long run, it would be cheaper for the government to prevent HIV transmission. We doctors know very well that it is always more efficient and better for everybody to avoid an illness than to cure it.
HA: What is the life expectancy of a child who has the virus?
Vindu: You cannot know this in general. However, it is not the virus that kills the people, but rather other illnesses such as tuberculosis, diarrhea, and infections that they get due to their weakened condition. We have a patient who began his treatment at the age of 18. Now he is 24-years-old and attends university. I would really be happy if everybody would support our young patients. Those children are children like any others, with the same rights to receive medical care. Some people deny that, and are even afraid that they could get infected by our little patients. But this is nonsense. You cannot get AIDS simply by shaking hands and saying “hello” to somebody.
HA: Now that you are married and have a baby, is it more difficult for you to work?
Vindu: Not really. But, of course, I need to arrange childcare with my husband before I travel out to the villages to see the patients there. And of course I need time to care for my daughter Roly Lukoo Mwanaweka. Luckily, Congolese law allows mothers to spend three hours per work day with a little baby. This is enough in my case.
HA: Some months ago, the Congolese people elected a new national parliament. But very few women received a mandate. In our town of Goma, not a single woman candidate was elected. What lesson do you learn from that?
Vindu: I realize that women are not well prepared to decide and to demand what they want. Many of them underestimate themselves. Also at our universities it is difficult for women. I have experienced this myself. When I began my lessons in medicine, people asked me why I did so, why I was willing to get old while studying. It would take me seven years to earn my degree in medicine, whereas I could complete other subjects in three years, which would be much better for a woman. We have to convince women that it is good for them personally and for all women to pursue a career.
HA: But this is not an easy task….
Vindu: Indeed. Not many Congolese women like to pursue a career, especially in politics. Many men still do not like their women to work outside the home. Even violence at home is still common because of that. Our society still has to learn that women have rights equal to men. Unfortunately, some women in politics did not behave appropriately, which made it even harder for other women to take the initiative. But it is absolutely necessary to have female leaders who help decide the future of our country. We have to convince women to vote for women. I am happy that some women took the risk to be a candidate for the last elections. And even while they failed this time, next time they or others may succeed.
HA: Can a day like woman’s day, celebrated in the whole world, help to promote women?
Vindu: The 8th of March is a day of celebration, which is good. But women should be aware of their rights all year long and they should retain their dignity all year long. Woman’s day is an opportunity to think about where we are and what we want – and how we want to live together with men in our society. Woman’s day is also important for those of us working with HEAL Africa. We ask ourselves all these questions I just mentioned and we think about how we as women could contribute to the success of HEAL Africa.
HA: What do you expect from the future? Will Congolese women reach their goals?
Vindu: I am an optimist. If we stand together we can improve. Especially through the work of our organization, HEAL Africa, the whole country could start down this road. But we still have a whole lot of work to do.