TrustAfrica has just released a documentary about its Enhancing Women's Dignity project, which seeks to stop gender violence and increase women's political participation in seven French-speaking countries in Central and West Africa.
Much of the film was shot on location in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it documents activities led by our partner and grantee, HEAL Africa. Thanks to your generous support, we were able to augment our initial grant to HEAL Africa with an additional $5,000 in private contributions.
We invite you to watch this video and meet some of the remarkable women and communities whom your donations are assisting. We thank you again for your support.
Thanks to each of you, we have reached the ambitious goal we set for our HEAL Africa campaign. Since the campaign began, we have raised exactly $5,000 from individual donors to support HEAL Africa's work in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Building on the $13,490 grant that TrustAfrica made to HEAL Africa last fall, your generous support will enable hundreds of additional rape survivors to find safety and begin to recover from the traumatic experiences they have endured.
We are writing now to see if you would like to be acknowledged in TrustAfrica's next annual report as one of the donor's to our HEAL Africa campaign. To opt-in, please forward this email to firstname.lastname@example.org and specify how you would like your name to be listed. (Note that we need to hear from you by May 31.) By listing your names, we hope to inspire others to follow your lead and contribute to future campaigns for TrustAfrica and its grantees.
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Thank you once again for helping us reach our goal!
As someone who supports the work of HEAL Africa, you should know that the world is taking notice of the vital work that our partners are doing in Goma. Please see the following updates from HEAL Africa:
Ben Affleck and Cindy McCain team up to bring attention to the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Click the following links to see their visit to DR Congo and HEAL Africa on ABC News and Nightline which both aired on Monday, March 7, and their Good Morning America appearance on March 8.
March News from Goma!
This morning I was walking through the HEAL Africa hospital and saw so many women in various stages of healing. In fact, one woman came back to ask for a job today. She'd come for an operation and was a patient for long enough to learn to read and write. I also talked with one of the counselors who came to the office to withdraw funds to send women back to their homes after they've healed. I saw the list of their names, their villages, and their thumbprints. These women hadn't been here long enough to learn to read.
I pointed at one name and asked the counselor, "What's her story?". That woman had arrived with prolapses and very high blood pressure, and she had to receive treatment to get her blood pressure down before she could withstand surgery. She spent 8 months here and in the process learned to make soap and doughnuts. She's now going home with a Fresh Start Kit to start up her own business at home.
Yesterday, I visited some women making clay inserts for more fuel-efficient stoves. They are grandmothers in the Muslim community who are supporting their grandchildren who were orphaned by HIV. They are learning new skills that will produce income to help feed these children and keep them in school. HEAL Africa has been working with all faith groups to prevent HIV, prevent sexual violence, and give people tools to improve their lives.
Thank you so much for your support. As I'm here in eastern DR Congo, I can see the difference it's making and hope you'll continue to join in supporting the amazing work being done here.
Congo´s women have been portrayed as victims in an endless war. HEAL Africa is working to build and support new communities of women in Africa who are empowered socially, physically, spiritually, and economically to create a new social fabric in communities that are torn apart by conflict. They are becoming a force for change in a different future for the Congo. In a fragmented postwar society, with many women living on their own, the traditional roles and structures have changed. Women are experiencing new responsibilities and are now recognizing that they have assumed new roles. This has led some groups of women to challenge a system they may never before have questioned. It has brought women together who have suffered the same issues: widowhood, rape, the need to support their children alone. Now they are discovering the strength they have in working together.
Central to Women Stand Up Together is the network of safe houses where women can find refuge and help in crisis and long-term support and resources as they work to build new communities after war. These houses are called Wamama Simameni (Women Stand Up Together) and are managed at the local level by the women they serve, linked to the staff of HEAL Africa in Goma. (see. “Thirst for Justice” story of Lubutu on the website).
The Women Stand Up Together safe houses are community-owned homes offering resources to all women in the community. They function as the center of a radiating network of initiatives that provide the framework of community, building capacity among women by educating, offering new resources such as income generating grants, teaching skills like learning to sew and make bread or soap, bringing other training and opportunities, and connecting them to vocational and agricultural improvements. Each house is staffed with trained counselors who work to find survivors of rape and other violence in need of medical treatment and refer them to the appropriate programs. Survivors pass through the houses on the way to the hospital in Goma for treatment or when traveling back home, healed. Women who are leaving the HEAL Africa hospital in Goma with a Fresh Start Kit, which includes the components for her to start a small business, will connect with the safe house closest to her village where she will receive support in building a new future for her and her family.
The houses become the entry points where communities can connect with other programs that network to build sustainable futures. Each house is the central meeting spot for counselors from the area to come, report, learn new skills, and encourage each other. Village counselors also know to refer to local medical clinics for infections, sexually transmitted diseases, or Post Exposure Prophyllaxis (PEP for HIV will dramatically reduce transmission of HIV if administered within 72 hours of a rape. Most villagers don’t know this, and it’s not available in many clinics out of the city.) HEAL Africa has been working with 67 rural clinics to provide training and medicine, and through the counselor networks to inform women and girls of the urgency of getting treatment quickly.
Members of a Women Stand Up Together home join together to form Solidarity Groups where they will support, educate, and encourage each other in their new community. Members of the groups are eligible to apply for micro-loans for start-up capital for a small business. Women whose micro-loans have been stolen are being helped by their solidarity groups; and according to a recent report from Goma, “Women are starting to recover trust and enter into the African system of sisterhood”. The rotating credit loans are being repaid in each of the centers who received income generation grants, and some groups have reimbursed two and three months’ worth.” Over 600 women are on the waiting list for the next round of micro-loans.
Each house also keeps some food on hand so that women who come for medical attention can be both sheltered and fed. The houses often maintain a small garden or a hutch of rabbits. These provide food when needed and can be a source of income. The house will have a space for meeting and learning, so village women can learn to sew, to read, to make bread or soap—skills that will help them in their daily tasks at home. The rooms at the back will provide extra space for storage, equipment and housing. There are also space and support for children at risk. Children’s Space works with children from disadvantaged homes and children who have been child soldiers, providing education and a safe place to play and learn new skills. For some of them, it is the first time someone has cared about them. For others, it is the first time in a long time that someone is thinking about their future.
Women Stand Up Together houses are central to HEAL Africa’s efforts to support and strengthen women in their own communities. When women are empowered, the whole community benefits. In Maniema and North Kivu Provinces there are currently 28 Women Stand Up Together houses that each belong to anywhere from 30 to 100 women. Each house costs $8000 to establish and $15 dollars a day to maintain with food, supplies, and a staff that includes counselors and security.
(Prepared by HEAL Africa)
Thanks to your generous support, TrustAfrica's GlobalGiving campaign for HEAL Africa has raised more than $2,200 — enough to let more than 200 Congolese rape survivors spend a month regaining their health and dignity at a HEAL Africa safe house.
The following reports were prepared by HEAL Africa:
The purpose of the safe houses hasn’t changed, but its name has, to Wamama Simameni, swahili for “Women Stand Up Together” . HEAL Africa has added a few purposes. It is a gathering place for women—to sit together, to learn to read and write, learn tailoring, learn to make bread, doughnuts or make soap. It’s also a community gathering place. The Nehemiah Committee meets here. The HEAL Africa staff from Goma come here when they’re in town, and teach nurses or midwives new skills, or hold family planning seminars, or talk about preventing transmission of HIV. Young people from 9 to 18 years old come here to learn the same information about preventing HIV, or the laws protecting women and children, and how to teach it to others. It’s a place of learning and light as well as safety. And there’s always a discreet door to the back where women can slip in and out, meet with a counselor in safety, and get help.
The houses are now called “Women Stand Up Together”, for that’s its role. It’s a place of joy, of restoration, of life, and of hope. For the women today, and for the community’s tomorrow. Strong women standing up together will ensure that their children eat well, go to school, and partipate in the community.
All the women of the community can come here, share stories, share skills, encourage each other. In some communities women are getting ready for the coming elections: they’re determined to elect people who will protect their interests. They now know that their elected officials are responsible to those who elect them.
We drove to get there, the nondescript house on the side street in a little town in northeast Congo. They walk. They know it’s there and they know someone cares when they get there. There’s a listening room for the woman who’s been raped. If she’d heard about the treatment to prevent HIV, she’s already been to the hospital or clinic for PEP, or Post Exposure Prophyllaxis. If she didn’t know about it and it’s within 72 hours of the incident the counselors will get her to the hospital immediately. Then she can come back and tell them what happened. Getting the word out that they need to get PEP has been a big change for women in Congo. And there are now places that offer the treatment.
When she gets back to the Wamama Simameni house she knows there are listening ears for her. And that she’s not alone. Once her story has been told, she might want to come again and learn to read, or to sew, or to bake bread. In one house there are Catholic and Muslim counselors, in another there might be Baptist and Pentecostal or Kimbanguist counselors. All the counselors are chosen by their community leaders as women who are trustworthy leaders.
The counselor. Call her Daniella. She’s 24 and lives in a little village out of the urban center. She’s had enough education to be able to read and write reports. She became a counselor because she knew the women really needed help, and she felt she could help them. She’s the youngest of 14 women who work in an area around one of the Wamama Simameni houses. They come in to give their reports, and get further training on a regular basis. She knows that she’s at risk too, because if the women tell her who raped them, the rapists know that she knows. She has been threatened several times. It’s not easy work, but it’s needed. And she’s not going to stop. She hasn’t been paid for three months because the funding for this program stopped. When asked why she continues to listen to women, she laughs and says, “They are still being raped. My job is to listen. How can I stop just because I’m not being paid?”
The mother. She was taken off into the forest when the armed men came into her town. She was young and she was strong. She was used for sex and anything else they wanted. When she became pregnant she eventually escaped. She found the house where women are welcomed. She found the bedroom where she can sleep or rest by herself. Her baby was born two weeks ago and she named him “Happiness God is Here”. She has a house, but doesn’t feel safe there, so she comes most days and just spends the day here with her son. She doesn’t talk much. The counselors make sure she gets some food. “She isn’t ready”, they say. They know she’s still traumatized, and they’re waiting and watching for the right time to start her into a new path. She hadn’t gone to school, and was a farmer, but she can’t do that anymore. She’s too afraid to go to her garden. What if she’s caught again? So they’ll eventually help her learn some new skills. But for now, she can use the bedroom in peace.
The others. In the same compound there’s another group of women in a small, dark room. They’re sitting around with their littlest ones, babies or toddlers. One counselor sits with them, comes in and out. They’re all survivors of rape, still too traumatized to be out and about. This town had some very fierce battles not too many months ago, and there are military all around. They are still too wounded to undertake something like the bread baking the women do in the town about 40 km away. That town was also the scene of fierce battles and retributions, but the ten women who were there yesterday had already come through some of the stages of their recovery and they meet weekly to make rolls, doughnuts and bread. They’ve developed a clientele and quickly sell what they make. The oven is in the Wamama Simameni house, so it’s normal and natural that they come there. There’s no stigma to this activity! What began as a group of women coming together to heal from the shared trauma of rape is moving forward as a business venture. As part of their healing they are building new opportunities for themselves and each other.
Or the women who’ve graduated from sewing class and want to form a sewing cooperative. They meet, work, and have started to laugh again. They like being together. On the same compound is a place, a converted rice mill, kind of a hanger with sides, where kids come for a kind of youth club four days a week for an hour. There are two groups, 9-12 and 13-18. They discuss things like the new laws to protect women and children in Congo. HIV and how it’s spread. Gender. Justice. These young people are being trained as peer educators, so that the information they learn here can be spread. Of course, this program has also been halted because of lack of funding. But the teachers still come, four days a week. And so do the kids. 80 of them in the house we visited yesterday ! This is important stuff for the young people of Congo to learn, and they want to teach!
HEAL Africa is working with men and women who want change for the people of their country. They’re tackling it in various ways, in different neighborhoods, in schools, in parishes, in courts of law, in clinics and in hospitals. Wamama Simameni houses are centers for various HEAL Africa programs and resources to intersect with women in a community. The Nehemiah Committees meet here. The Safe Motherhood team teaches here. Everyone is welcome. And there’s always a back entrance for the one who wants to slip in and slip out in privacy.
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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
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