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KuangSi2I want to tell you about a woman who probably did more to create women's rights and change the face of sexual violence than any westerner who has walked the earth in recent years. She is Lyn Lusi, and she is the co-founder of HEAL Africa in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Health, Education, (Community) Action, Leadership.

She came to Zaire as a young woman from England, a Baptist missionary and teacher, in the early 1970's. Soon, she fell in love with her husband, Dr. Kasereka M. "Jo" Lusi, a Congolese doctor and orthopedic surgeon. She and Jo combined their skills to serve through two decades at Congo’s Nyankunde Hospital. It is difficult to imagine the task they met, as Dr. Lusi was -- in wartime -- the only orthopedic surgeon serving eight million people.

Jo and Lyn directed their efforts toward training young Congolese doctors. This was their original motivation behind founding the teaching hospital, HEAL Africa in the year 2000. The war "ended" but the conflict persisted, so HEAL Africa was also located in the middle of what is arguably the most extreme human violence in the world today. It was from HEAL Africa's doorstep that they assessed the scale of the rape epidemic in the region and dedicated their efforts to helping victims of sexual violence.

This is a video of Dick Durbin honoring Lyn Lusi on the Senate floor:

Lyn Lusi was a gifted administrator. While the problems in Congo can only be solved by the people of Congo, it doesn't hurt to have a quiet but brilliant paper pusher behind the scenes. She worked to help the people of Congo make real miracles happen. Real miracles.

  • HEAL Africa partnered with the American Bar Association to help pass and enforce laws supporting women's rights. Rape is now illegal in the DRC, and convictions are beginning to happen. It is a slow process, but it is happening. It is now also a crime to marry a young girl to an older man.
  • HEAL Africa set up a network of women's centers on the ground in conflict areas where victims of sexual violence can get prophylactic care, counseling, and support until they can be transported to the hospital for treatment. An "outside" organization could not manage this kind of care -- only Congolese people helping Congolese people can exist in the field this way.
  • HEAL Africa travels from village to village, educating tribal leaders about the new laws that respect women's rights. They've managed to get support from tribal elders, and the new laws are being recognized from the ground up.
  • HEAL Africa holds conferences on conflict resolution with tribal leaders. Villages formerly isolated from one another now network together to keep their children out of militias. The tribal elders also network together to help victims of sexual violence, and to prosecute perpetrators. In one village, a tribal chief's son was prosecuted (and convicted) to the limit of the law. Ironically, the villages are connected to each other and to the hospital by cell phone.
  • HEAL Africa has a comprehensive treatment program for victims of sexual violence. The patients remain resident at the hospital for months or years as they recover from their physical wounds -- usually traumatic gynecologic fistula from brutally violent rape. These injuries often require many surgeries and a lot of time to repair. They receive love, psychological care, and vocational training that supports them in returning to their home with strength and skills their village depends on.

I am surely forgetting many of the remarkable things HEAL Africa does, but it is no stretch to call Lyn Lusi the mother of effective grassroots community organizers. Please read more about Lyn Lusi and HEAL Africa. We hear so much about the horrible violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo that we forget to realize positive change is happening there, too.

HEAL Africa's Lyn Lusi Memorial page.

A PBS Newshour tribute to Lyn Lusi.

An article about Lyn Lusi in The Economist.

HEAL Africa's website.

She leaves behind her loving husband, her son Paluku and his wife and son, her daughter Nadine, and four sisters. She also leaves thousands of friends and colleagues who loved her dearly. Lyn passed away in Goma, DR Congo, on the evening of March 17th, and was laid to rest in Butembo, North Kivu in DR Congo, on Tuesday March 20th.

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Lyn wanted the world to know about Congo.

Godspeed, Lyn Lusi.

Originally posted to rb137 on Mon May 21, 2012 at 06:32 PM PDT.

Also republished by House of LIGHTS, Rape and Domestic Violence, J Town, and The Grieving Room.

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