International Medical Corps

International Medical Corps is a global humanitarian nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and relieving suffering through healthcare training, disaster relief, and long-term development programs.
May 22, 2014

Rehabilitating Rape Survivors Through Livelihood Programs

VSLA member receiving her savings
VSLA member receiving her savings

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape and sexual violence are often used as a weapon of war, International Medical Corps is applying a holistic approach to support survivors. By providing medical treatment, psychosocial support, and livelihood opportunities, International Medical Corps is helping survivors of gender-based violence build a better future for themselves and their families. One such survivor is Kalonge -- a 27 year-old woman who participated in our programs in Kalonge, DRC. 

In her own words:

“In 2008, my family was attacked by members of the Forces Democratic for the Liberation of Rwanda who killed my husband after raping me, and then burned down our house. We took refuge in Rambo with a generous family, where I spent my three weeks of mourning. When calm returned, I had to return to my village with my family, but I had no home to return to. I returned with my four children and stayed with a neighbor who had already rebuilt her hut."

“After three months, life had become increasingly difficult because the space was insufficient for two families. In the fourth month, the neighbor said she was tired of the conditions in which the family lives, and she asked us to find another place to stay. That day, I was shocked and felt as if the world turned against me. I began to remember my husband and thought that if he were here, I would not be suffering. I did not want to continue living, but I had to live for the sake of my children. I even thought about selling part of the land my husband left me, so that I can use the money to build a house."

“Eventually, I decided to see a pastor of a Protestant church in the village to explain my problem, hoping that he could help me. He wanted to help me and my family, but did not have enough space in his house to accommodate us.  He welcomed us to stay at the church and promised to mobilize members of his church to contribute towards the construction of a new house for my family. The church members, however, declined to mobilize resources because I was not a member of the church."

“For four years I suffered with my children in a church where I could not light a fire or cook. This development began to gnaw at my heart, and I hung around the church because I did not have anywhere to go."

“One day, when I was returning from the field, I met an old acquaintance. It was a woman with whom I had grown up during our childhood. We had time to talk about life, but I did not know she had become a community volunteer. After I told her about my suffering, she invited me to her house where I got some food and other items for my family."

“The next day she came to see me at church where I was still staying with my children. That's when she told me about a program that supports people who are facing similar challenges. I thought to myself that I'm not really interested because the advice they will give me there cannot build a house for my family, but I gave myself the courage to go to the community center for advice about the rape that I had suffered, because the experience kept coming back to me and it was very painful to my heart."

“A woman greeted me, accompanied by my old acquaintance who originally told me about International Medical Corps. We talked for a long time, and she gave me advice and some food and clothes. That day, I realized that I would take control of my recovery so that I could raise my family. After two meetings with her, I was given a paper to take to another office where we had a conversation with a woman who worked there. She told me that I could train with other women in similar circumstances on how to identify our skills that can be used for activities that would help us earn money. At the meeting, I chose to sell peppers because I knew how to do it because I used to help my mother when I was young. I worked with the woman to plan how to support my family selling peppers, and she helped me collect all the materials I needed to start my new business."

“The first day I went to the market, I was determined to earn the money needed to build a house for my children. I received 15 measures of peppers that I sold in less than four days. Pepper is a rare and seasonal product and I was among the few people who knew where to find them. In two months, I had earned a profit of $160 because I was saving all the money I was earning. The following month, I made roughly $120, part of which I saved and part of which I used for the care of my family." 

“As the months went on, I gradually started buying nails, sticks and other building materials that I used to construct a two-room house where I now live with my children. I can now also pay for my children’s school fees. I joined other women, and together, we formed a village savings and loan association (VSLA), and I continue to think of new ways to improve my income through other activities.  I have already purchased a few iron sheets with earnings from the village savings and loan association, and I hope to have an iron sheet roof soon."

“I am very grateful for the help I received from International Medical Corps, and it feels like my life is improving.”

VSLA members having a meeting
VSLA members having a meeting
May 22, 2014

Elevating Women by Changing Attitudes

Training Session for Men to Change Their Attitudes
Training Session for Men to Change Their Attitudes

In addition to reducing violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, International Medical Corps’ works to change attitudes so women are empowered to claim their rights in their communities; as women are empowered and seen as equals, the communities’ acceptance of gender-based violence also changes, helping to reduce violence against women. One way International Medical Corps accomplishes this goal is by working with 13 community coalitions composed of influential community members in North and South Kivu.  These coalitions educate community members on the causes and consequences of sexual and gender-based. They conduct outreach education in the markets and other public places during International Women’s Day celebrations. As a result of the sessions, community members are more likely to report cases of violence to the coalitions, helping to raise awareness.  Survivors are assisted in seeking services, including medical, economic, legal and psychosocial support. Below is an example of how a community coalition member was able to stand up for a local woman:

In Kalonge, Cifunzi, a mother of 5 girls, has been a widow for 3 months. After the death of her husband, her husband’s family decided to hand over her property, including land and livestock, to his brothers because she did not have sons. Being overwhelmed by the circumstances and left with nothing, she went and talked to a community coalition member who is also a relative of her husband’s family.

At the second family meeting, the thirty year- old man got up and told other family members that is not right to disinherit a widow. ‘She has children with our brother and even if they are girls, they have the right to access their father’s inheritance. I insist that we give the inheritance to her and her children. I am not in agreement that we give all the property to her brothers-in-law. It is against the law to deny women inheritance’, he told the participants of the meeting. Following the statements of the member of the community coalition, the meeting did not continue due to disagreements over his views.

After twenty days, the head of the family along with three men came to the widow and said that they will make their final decision at the end of the 40-day mourning period. When the date arrived, the woman was surprised to hear the head of the family inform all the family members that the children (girls) will inherit their father’s property as he handed over the title deed of the land to their mother.

Cifunzi is very grateful for the intervention of the member of the community coalition. She said that she had seen firsthand the change that the coalition members can bring to prevent violence against women in their community. ‘Without the intervention of the coalition member, I would have been out in the cold with my children,’ she said.

____________________________________________________________

 

International Medical Corps’ holistic approach to empowering women and reducing gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo works by supporting the health and well-being of survivors and their families and, through community outreach and education, changes attitudes and behaviors to prevent violence in the future. International Medical Corps’ programs helps both women and men change their attitudes and behaviors to reduce violence.  Here is one man’s story about how he became a stronger family leader and changed his own attitudes to benefit his family: 

“It has been almost a month since have been involved with International Medical Corps. After being selected to attend training, I thought it was yet an opportunity for me to gain knowledge educate my community because I am a member of the community leadership.  But, from the first day, the facilitator informed us that the training will not be just a matter of acquiring knowledge about violence against women and girls. Rather, it would be discussions and reflections on this issues, and each participant will be required to make a commitment to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors towards women and girls.”

“During the first week of training, the facilitator asked us to take a break and reflect on positive actions we can initiate in our home after each session. As I followed the training, the sessions on reflection began to change my perception on what it means to be a man and to be called the head of household.  Putting the changes into practice was not easy because I thought that I would lose the respect in my home as a man. However, I started by greeting my wife and children, something I never used to do before; I expect them to greet me since I was the head of the household.”

“I have been married for 14 years ago and I am a father of six children (3 girls and 3 boys). My wife Bora never had the space to make decisions on any of the issues of our home, especially financial management. I saw myself as master and the only decision maker in our home. I single handedly managed money and ended up wasting all of it without thinking of well-being of my children and my wife. The reflections sessions during the training helped me to become transparent with my wife. For the first time since we got married, I gave her all the money that was given to me as per diem to cover the family needs. Surprised by my actions, my wife did not use the money; she thought that it was a trap because she had never obtained that amount of money from me without a quarrel. The most amazing thing to me is that my children laughed and said to her, ‘you know that dad can never give you this amount, just be ready for quarrels as usual.’”

“My children do not know that I was no longer the same father that they knew before the training. Four days after consultations with my wife, we decided to buy clothes for our children. I saw my children jumping with joy as new clothes came only during the holiday season. I was very touched and I realized that I was spending a lot of money without thinking about my family’s needs. I thank International Medical Corps for this approach to engage men. Now, my wife and children can express their view without being intimidated.  This is my new found male pride. I will do my best to ensure the success of men engagement activities in my community and continue to carry out reflections on my own life to keep the change in myself, change that I want others to embrace.”

May 19, 2014

Madi's Story

Madi
Madi's Struggle - Photo by Maia Baldauf

On a clinic bed in a site for those displaced by violence in South Sudan, rests Madi, a woman who simultaneously cries and smiles as she talks about her struggles. She has come to the clinic with stomach pains and vomiting. But she shows heartache more than anything.

Madi is a foreign national living in South Sudan. She fled her East Africa homeland because she suffered persecution at the hands of those hostile toward her practice of worship. At one time, Madi was arrested for practicing her religion and spent six months in jail.

Four years ago, Madi and her husband were forced to flee their country and make the long journey to Bor, South Sudan where she heard business was good and life was more promising. Madi established her own shop while her husband managed his own business. They made enough to eat well most days and keep a roof over their heads.  A year and a half ago, she gave birth to her first child, a son.

Then in December 2013, violence broke out in South Sudan and Bor burst into conflict, resulting in thousands of civilian deaths and the displacement of more than one million people. Once again, Madi and her husband feared for their lives and were forced to flee to the only refuge they knew in Juba. When Madi and her small family arrived, she had no one to lean on. All her family support was hundreds of miles away.

“And I worry about my husband. He is angry and he worries all the time. Before, we had some money, a social life. Now he just stays at home, doing nothing. He is always distressed. What can I do?” Madi pleads. But she has hope in her son, Zarit. He is curious and precocious, with a wink in his eyes like he’s reading your thoughts. Madi prays for him every day.

“I tell God, ‘do not see me, see my son,’” she says, with tiny tears continuously falling from her face.

Madi quietly admits she has little hope, between fear for her life in the Protection of Civilian (PoC) site, where foreign nationals can face harsh treatment, concern about her husband’s mental illness, and uncertainty about the future. Basic resources such as food, water, and health care are stretched thin in the PoC. Although some residents have managed to set up small kiosks for goods or services, neither Madi nor her husband have found a way to generate income.

Her family of three lives in a cramped make-shift structure in the densely populated PoC. Many residents are worried about the spread of cholera or more flooding as the rainy season pounds down on them.

To add to Madi’s stresses, she came to the clinic with morning sickness. Her second child is on the way.

“She was not doing so well, very sick,” says the International Medical Corps staff physician who managed Madi’s case. If she hadn’t heard about the maternal health clinic, she would have been left severely dehydrated and on the verge of passing out from sickness.

Madi wonders what kind of world her child will be brought into. This too, she says with a smile but through soft stream of tears. For a displaced woman and mother of one with another the way, Madi maintains an immensely strong spirit.

Where our doctors and nurses can, they will support patients with attentive health care, yet International Medical Corps recognizes the most resilient strength comes from the community. We celebrate mothers like Madi and we are there to offer health services at every opportunity. 

Madi
Madi's Hope - Photo by Maia Baldauf
 
   

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