As some of you know, the situation in Goma turned violent on November 19, 2012, as the M23 rebels took the city by military force. Hundreds of thousands of Congolese have been displaced and many people have been injured in the fighting. A majority of NGOs evacuated because of the danger, but HEAL Africa, with its local staff, has played a central role in conducting emergency assessment and getting help to internally displaced persons as well as treating those who have been injured. See some interviews by staff and patients below to get a sense of what's been happening and how they are responding.
HEAL Africa needs and deserves support as they coordinate relief efforts with expert care. Congo Story will be collecting donations all this week to be sent to HEAL Africa in support of their vital work in Goma. Simply give through the PayaPal link on the right, which goes into the FCMC Foundation's CAMP Fund account, or by contacting the FCMC Foundation (717-485-6842).
Interviews from Goma
November 22, 2012
Stephane Alimasi, Secretary at HEAL Africa
We have lived this war in a climate of fear. We were waiting for the crackling of bullets, bombs. We stayed in our houses without moving, we were hungry, no market were open to buy food, and until now in the city of Goma there is neither water nor electricity. It is a catastrophic situation which would bring us diseases like cholera and other diarrheal diseases. We are humanitarians, we want peace, and we are ready to work with everyone.
Doctor Luc Malemo, Surgeon at HEAL Africa
It was very stressful. I got back from a trip to South Africa and had just arrived on Monday around 1 pm. At about 2 pm an ambulance came to pick me up at home before I had a chance to rest, because there were wounded that needed to be cared for. When I arrived at the hospital we found many people who needed to be operated on. We spent all night at the hospital in the operating room. We received 32 patients that day; one died, the others are in good health.
While I was working, I knew that I was insecure—bullets could find me as well, but I had to make the choice between leaving patients on the operating table and keeping myself safe, but I chose to continue to work, knowing that God protects the whole team, and actually God did protect all the people who were at HEAL Africa Hospital that night, no one was hurt.
Now everyone is asking questions about the future. I think we should let a little time go by, we don’t know what is happening.
Doctor Justin Lussy, OB-GYN at HEAL Africa
A huge terror descended on the city and on HEAL Africa. Everyone wanted to get out of town, but we realized that we are doctors, that there would be wounded people that we could not leave. A few moments later we started to receive the wounded. We stayed at the hospital all day and all night, and so fulfilled our responsibility as doctors.
We were a bit stressed-out, and we were afraid, but we knew that God was with us, and that he would help us do our work.
What meant a lot to me was that here were bullets shattering all over, but neither the soldiers who left town, nor those who came in bothered us at the hospital.
We were particularly moved by the types of patients we received: lots of children, pregnant women. I remember a child of 12 who lost his left arm; it was really, really sad.
We see the future with a lot of hope. We know that the whole world is praying for us; we are receiving messages of encouragement from everywhere and that gives us both strength and confidence.
Doctor in Goma
We were in the house, near the airport of Goma, that’s where the war was happening. Really, it was gunfire we’d never heard like that before. My little daughter couldn’t stop crying at the top of her lungs. She cried, she didn’t know what was going on, all Monday night and Tuesday, she didn’t sleep. It’s only Wednesday that she spent the day sleeping. I wasn’t calm, I just prayed that God would save my daughter because she knew nothing of this war.
I think that if it is really peace that they are bringing to us, they are welcome. But if it is not peace, I think that our God is there for justice and peace, and He will give it to us if they don’t want to give it to us.
Nelly Salome, Nurse at HEAL Africa
This Monday I was here at the hospital when I saw the wounded arrive. We received them and gave them care. At a point I was really frustrated, but according to the oath I made and the suffering of the patients that were coming, I decided to be courageous and to do my work. At one point, there was a bomb in the area of Birere and an explosion. I was really afraid, I didn’t know what to do, but I couldn’t flee, because thought that if I ran away, the patients would be tempted to follow me, and there were many among them whose sutures hadn’t healed after their fistula surgery, and they could not leave.
For the moment, I think there’s still a lot of fear in the city, peace is not yet returned.
Interviews from HEAL Africa Patients
November 25, 2012
On Monday, November 19th, 2012, war erupted in Goma between a rebel group, called ‘M23,’ and the Congolese army. As these two armed groups engaged in a two day-long firefight, many people were displaced, wounded, and killed. By Wednesday morning, M23 had declared victory and stated that they will continue to ‘liberate’ the rest of the country from the control of the Congolese army. While sentiments are mixed about the new regime, even those supportive of the new government regret the lives lost or destroyed by the war.
As of 8 pm on November 22nd, HEAL Africa had received 75 patients wounded in the crossfire in Goma. While Goma is now calm, the war continues in areas to west and south of Goma, and many more casualties are expected. Thanks to your donations, a first restocking of the hospital was completed today. With new cases streaming in from the peripheries, these supplies will be used quickly. HEAL Africa asks for your continued support during this humanitarian crisis.
Anuarite Mbuyi is 32 years old. She was 38 weeks pregnant several days ago. On Monday afternoon, she was caught in crossfire. As a result of the firefight, Anuarite lost her unborn child, her spleen, and part of her intestines. She is still on oxygen in the intensive care unit at HEAL Africa as she tells her story.
Anuarite and her family live in a neighborhood close to the airport in Goma. While their home had been rocked by the bomb blasts in Munigi on Sunday, they had no idea that gunfire would enter their house the next day. The bullets started at 1 pm. The children were playing outside. Immediately, Anuarite went to the door to call them into the house. As she approached the doorway, a stray bullet entered her chest and passed through her body. She fell down immediately; her husband and neighbors carried her to the road, where they were able to hail a motorcycle. As the doctors from Goma’s general hospital had already fled, the moto driver took Anuarite directly to HEAL Africa, where a trauma team was posted to receive the wounded. By the time they got to HEAL, Anuarite had already lost a lot of blood, and her baby had died inside her belly. To save her life, a talented group of surgeons rolled her into the operating room for an emergency operation. They performed a C-section, tied up blood vessels, and cleaned the debris out of her abdomen. While she mourns the loss of her child and worries about her own health, Anuarite thanks HEAL Africa for the care that they have given her.
Muhindo Germain was walking with some friends in his neighborhood when the gunfire began. As they started to run, a bullet tore through Muhindo’s throat. Some nearby soldiers saw him fall and ran to help. They carried him to the nearest hospital, which put a call into HEAL Africa: Muhindo was badly injured, and the hospital didn’t have the supplies or the expertise to treat him. When the gunfire died down, Muhindo was transferred to HEAL Africa. There, a surgeon stopped the bleeding, repaired the surrounding tissue, and inserted a tube that will allow Muhindo to breathe through an opening in his neck. In addition to losing tissue necessary for hormonal regulation, Muhindo also lost his vocal cords. At eighteen years old, he will not speak again. His father doubts that he will continue in school. Dr. Simplice, one of the surgeons who operated on Muhindo, says, ‘We saved his life, but we couldn’t save his voice. A complicated operation by a throat specialist would give Muhindo some ability to communicate. Until then, he will live in silence.’ HEAL Africa has put a communiqué out to its partners to recruit a specialist that would be able to help Muhindo.
Joseph lies alone in a hospital bed at HEAL Africa. His mother is mentally handicapped; no one knows his father. A witness tells Joseph’s story: since July, when M23 began fighting in his village, Joseph has lived in a camp for displaced persons seven kilometers north of Goma. In the morning, he walked to Goma for work. At eleven years old, he took out people’s garbage in exchange for scraps of food. Depending on how much he was able to earn each day, he either slept outside or made his way back to the camp in the evenings. On Monday afternoon, a bomb fell on a house where Joseph was working, killing several people and amputating Joseph’s left arm at the shoulder. Immediately after the blast, a group of neighbors carried Joseph to the road, where a Red Cross vehicle picked him up and carried him to HEAL Africa. By the time he got to the hospital, he had lost so much blood that doctors doubted if he would survive. HEAL’s trauma team worked quickly to tie arteries and replace fluids. Three days after the surgery, Joseph is still too weak to sit, and he doesn’t say much. A representative from HEAL’s media department sits with him, trying to gather information that will help them locate Joseph’s family. On Saturday, a team will circulate around town with Joseph’s picture and that of several other wounded children who have been separated from their families. Their bodies have been attended to; HEAL is now working to reunite their families.
Emmanuel Bahafikiwariji will be 16 in April. His family fled M23′s first invasion of Congo on July 8th. For the last four and a half months, they have been living in the Kanyaruchinya camp, receiving a meal a day from the World Food Program. On Sunday morning, they were told to evacuate the camp and head for another camp 20 kilometers to the south. War was coming, and the southern camp would be safer. By Monday afternoon, when the shooting began, the majority of Kanyaruchinya’s 60,000 inhabitants had made it out of Goma; however, some women and children, Emmanuel’s family included, were still on route. Around 2 pm, as the displaced passed a large church, gunshots erupted. Emmanuel’s father ran; Emmanuel and his mother ducked into an alley and hid. During a brief break in the gunfire, Emmanuel stood to relieve himself. He heard a bullet, and then he felt his body go cold. As he fell to the ground, he realized he could no longer move his hands or feet. Several people who were nearby helped carry him to a clinic; from there, he was transferred to HEAL Africa’s hospital. Emmanuel’s mother holds an x-ray that shows the bullet. A member of HEAL’s trauma team explains: ‘The bullet entered near Emmanuel’s neck and lodged near his armpit, touching the spinal cord on the way. Over the past three days, the swelling that caused a temporary paralysis has receded, and Emmanuel has regained control of his upper extremities. However, his lower extremities will be permanently paralyzed. He will not walk again.’ While Emmanuel’s prognosis is grave, HEAL Africa’s rehabilitation team will soon begin working with Emmanuel to recover his strength. They will give him a wheelchair, administer physical therapy, and teach him how to be as self-sufficient as possible.