Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tune into 60 Minutes Tonight

 "Tomorrow is a New Day" - Billboard at entrance to Panzi Hospital 

Tonight 60 Minutes will show an expose on what is driving the war in Congo: Not tribal conflict, as you might imagine, but control and exploitation of Congo's vast mineral wealth. Coltan, gold, copper, cobalt and tin are what many are now calling "conflict minerals," -- contraband minerals that are smuggled out of the country through Rwanda and Uganda and continue to finance a war that causes the deaths of 47.000 people, mostly innocent women and children, each month! and makes Congo the most dangerous place in the world to be woman.

Don't miss it! The International Rescue Committee will take you into North Kivu Province where much of the fighting and many of the mines are located. This should be a fascinating program!

With love and gratitude,

Elisabeth's Story

Elisabeth is a tall, statuesque woman in her mid-forties, and like many Congolese women her age, is a grandmother. She is also a widow who still has three school-aged children to care for, so she does laundry for wealthy people in Bukavu to support the family.

For some years now, Elisabeth has had stomach problems but not enough money to get medical treatment. She has lived with the pain, hoping it would go away, until recently when both she and her friends thought she might be dying, so sick had she become.

Ushindi Center contributes to a fund at Ciriri Hospital, which allows its women members to get medical treatment without having to pay out of their meager resources. A small hospital located in the hills above Bukavu where many women members live, it is run by a Belgian doctor, Dr. Mary Jo, who specializes in women's health. When Elisabeth decided to get treatment, she went there for help.

Dr. Mary Jo and I standing in front of Ciriri Hospital.

Last month, Elisabeth was hospitalized and had surgery, for what I don't know. What I do know is that the surgery was such a success that she recovered completely, regaining not only her will to live but her energy and high spirits.  So healthy did she become that jealous neighbors guessed that she had had surgery, which in Congo means you are wealthy, broke into her house one day looking for money, and stole everything she had.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the next night three armed soldiers banged down her door and demanded  she give them everything she had. The children managed to escape, and when the soldiers saw that she had nothing to give, one ordered her to take off her clothes so he could rape her; otherwise, he would kill her.

Ellisabeth stood up to her full height, looked him in the eye, and said, "You can kill me right now, because I am not going to take off my clothes and let you rape me again! I would rather die here than be raped by you!"

The soldier hesitated and looked to his superior for direction. The superior shrugged his shoulders and said, "Let's go", and they left.

When Elisabeth told me this story, she was elated, bouncing with energy, smiling and laughing. She had stood up to a rapist, to soldiers with guns who could easily have killed her, and she had prevailed! Her bravery is a huge personal achievement, signifying that she is a victor now, no longer a victim. 

Equally important, her bravery indicates that a shift in consciousness in happening with Congolese women. Because rape is epidemic in DRC, Congolese women almost expect it to happen to them; they believe that rape is just what happens to black women and don't fight back. Training programs like Ushindi Center empower  Congolese women by teaching them their rights, giving them microloans to start small businessses, and providing a safe, supportive environment where they can heal and rebuild their lives.

If you would like to be part of this powerful, life-changing process, please DONATE NOW at

Support the good work at Ushindi Center by contributing to the medical fund,  school fund, and/or general operating costs. Help these courageous women get back on their feet!

(for security reasons, Elisabeth's photograph is not included with her story)

With love and gratitude,

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Energy Therapy in DRC

My friend Gunilla Hamne is a Swedish trauma therapist who has worked with genocide victims in Rwanda and Uganda for several years. She has perfected the use of energy therapy to treat trauma in war suvivors. When we met last March in Bukavu, I asked if she would work with the women at Ushindi Center, who continue to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms years after the traumatic events occurred.

 Gunilla treating woman at Ushindi Center with Roger translating, March 2009.

I was trained in energy psychology before my first trip to Africa, but I didn’t take it seriously: I didn’t believe a process so simple could have much effect on profound trauma.  How could I ask women who’ve been raped, tortured and abandoned to believe that tapping their faces would make all that horror somehow disappear?

And yet it does. A month after treating several women at Ushindi Center last year, Gunilla did a follow-up visit and found that two women who had had insomnia for 4-5 years after being raped had been sleeping regularly since the treatment. And now they are happy to tell you they’re still sleeping well after nine months!
Women learn energy therapy in Sud Kivu Province, DRC.

Since then, other women have reported that 1) headache pain feeling like an arrow shot in the head disappeared, 2) overwhelming worries dissipated and floated away, to stay gone, 3)mistrust of others has been replaced with a feeling of belonging to the group, 4) distorted vision is gone, and 5) love instead of irritation guides them in caring for their children. The most often cited improvement is return of normal sleep patterns, but for the therapist, the most obvious change is a lightness of being that shines through in their brilliant smiles.

How can this be? We don’t really know. Gunilla believes that tapping acupressure points allows blocked traumatic ideas and emotions to loosen and move out of the body. It does seem as if something has been dislodged and released.

Gunilla and I teaching energy therapy to psychosocial caregivers in Goma, DRC.

In the meantime, I have dropped my skepticism and now practice energy therapy whenever I can here in Congo. We have begun administering pre- and post-tests to measure behavioral change, and we have videotaped a few of our therapy sessions. Look for us at the next Energy Therapy Conference!

With love and gratitude,

Child Prostitutes (Part II)

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The girls had been arrested on a Saturday night. By the time I returned to the transit house the following Friday afternoon, four of the five had been returned to their families; of those four, three had already run away and were back living on the streets.

I was prepared to enroll the girls in school and then job training at Ushindi Center where the women members want to mentor young girls and help them rejoin society. However, in a country where few social programs (including NGOs) have funds to house these girls, the rationale is to return them to their families as quickly as possible, regardless that their families do not want them or are too poor to feed them. In this case, a long shot is better than no shot at all!

Bahati, the fifth girl who remained at the transit house, says she is 18 but is probably around 14 or 15.  She is obviously pregnant, most likely in her third trimester.  She says her parents live in Goma, and the agency is trying to “reinsert” her before the baby comes. She is willing to return home, but worries because she has no money for baby clothes, which places an additional burden on the family, now with two more mouths to feed instead of one.

My interpreter, Hortense, a very wise Congolese woman, says in addition to baby clothes, she will need some little money for the delivery, and a monthly stipend of $20 so she can do small business selling food, clothes, etc.  Bahati says she can easily make a living selling bananas on the street; she just needs start-up money to fund the new business; like all these children, she is penniless and has no way of getting financed.

Another girl living in the transit house asked to speak with us:  Adolphine, who has had much tragedy in her short life. Eighteen years old now, she has a 14-month old daughter named Ingrid, a child born of rape.  Originally from Kinshasa, Adolphine came to Kanola 2 years ago to help an older sister and her husband, who had just had their first child, a baby boy.  They lived together for several months until one night when five Interahamwe broke into their house demanding $350.  The husband had only $50 to give them, so they beat him and raped her sister. He still had only $50 to give them, so they took the baby from Adolphine’s arms and tied her to a tree; then they locked the sister, her brother-in-law, and the baby in the house and set fire to it, burning them alive, forcing her to listen to their screams. She was gang raped later that night and taken into the bush, where she lived as a sex slave for eight months.

Adolphine escaped by threatening a guard with his knife; then she and two other girls walked for a week to Kabare where they found safety. She was admitted to Panzi Hospital and stayed many months after giving birth, because she was suicidal. She has lived at the transit house for seven months and is no longer severely depressed, although she does suffer from traumatic stress syndrome. She wants to go home to her parents in Kinshasa, but because airfare costs about $500 for her and the baby, she still lives in Bukavu.

These are the stories you hear told by women and girl survivors of sexual violence. Those of us fortunate enough to live in relative safety all our lives have difficulty grasping the desperation and despair this kind of trauma causes. When I listen to these women’s stories, I am deeply touched and want to help each one: return home, get medical help, send their children to school, fund a small business, provide trauma healing to ease the pain.

But of course, I cannot help each one. If any of you reading this blog feels moved to help Adolphine return home where she will have family love and support and begin healing, please email me and we can begin the process of getting her papers ready and buying the ticket home.  We can’t help all the suffering people in the world, but in this case we can help one very deserving young woman rebuild her life, perhaps even find joy in living again.
P.S. I cannot post these girls' photos online for security reasons.

With love and gratitude,