A letter from Larry and Inge Sthreshley, serving in Congo
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Ziplock bags have always been a “prized commodity” for me living in Congo. They are really handy things, and up until recent years you couldn’t find them in the stores in Kinshasa. I would always bring a couple of boxes back with me from the States when we returned to Congo. My kids laugh because I wash and reuse them. After years of scarcity, it has just become a habit. And when they did become available, you could spend a small fortune on them. So, I just keep recycling my ziplock bags, plus it’s good for the environment. But it wasn’t until a recent trip to Goma to visit the USHINDI program that I saw that something as simple as a clear plastic ziplock bag could change the course and quality of someone’s life when combined with other actions.
When I was at the USHINDI office in Goma talking with my friend, Ann Clemmer, who had just come back from the United States, I learned that she had brought back a trunk full of ziplock bags and that IMA World Health actually brings in about 10,000 of them a year. That’s a lot! I was curious and learned that this had all started when Dr. Alice Mundekereza, SGBV advisor, had asked Ann to bring back some for the USHINDI program a few years back.
“USHINDI,” which means “to overcome” in Swahili, is a program in Eastern Congo that works to address sexual and gender-based violence (SGVB). Through its partner organizations, the USHINDI program provides psychosocial care, medical care, legal services and economic activities to survivors of SGBV. When it came to medical treatment of survivors, Dr. Alice observed that the drugs used to prevent infection by HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy were not always available at the health centers to treat survivors of rape. Some of the eight drugs and components needed would be on the shelf, but others would not, having been used to treat other diseases. Or, the drugs would have expired. When treating survivors of rape, time is of the essence: survivors need to be treated within 72 hours for the treatment to be effective. So, Alice decided to address the problem by initiating the assembly of PEP kits (Post–Exposure Prophylaxis kits). These kits contain all eight components necessary for a post-exposure, prophylaxis treatment that runs 30 days. All the components are secured in ziplock bags that are sealed and labeled. That way, the drugs are always available. There is no time lost looking for drugs on pharmacy shelves to treat a survivor of rape, and no discovering that a couple of the drugs needed are out of stock or have expired.
USHINDI, with support from the Ministry of Health, initially made the kits for the 10 health zones where the USHINDI program was active. But later, at the request of UNICEF and the Provincial Ministries of Health of South and North Kivu, IMA organized the assembly of PEP kits for all 67 health zones in these two regions, with bulk drugs received free of charge from UNICEF. Because of Alice’s engagement with this problem, 8,250 PEP kits have been assembled and distributed, with 100% coverage in the health centers in North and South Kivu provinces. And, the number of survivors who receive PEP kits has increased in almost all of the 10 health zones where USHINDI is active. This activity is now being handed over to the Ministry of Health.
PEP kits have been just one aspect of the USHINDI program that Larry has given oversight to as IMA Country Director and PC(USA) mission co-worker. The program was funded by USAID, and IMA has worked with several partners to implement it, such as Heal Africa based in Goma, the PANZI Foundation based in Bukavu, PPSSP, the America Bar Association and Johns Hopkins University. It has been a seven-year program carried out in four provinces in Eastern Congo, serving approximately 1.5 million people. A key objective during this time has been to strengthen national organizations that support survivors and reinforce the capacity of health centers, safe houses, legal clinics and other social service structures to provide services. Over the past seven years, 30,467 survivors of SGBV have received assistance in some form, whether medical, psychosocial, legal or economic. Prevention has also been an important part of USHINDI activities. A key objective has been to strengthen communities’ ability to prevent SGBV. USHINDI partners have carried out many outreach and public awareness activities for adults and school children, reaching over 2 million people.
The USHINDI program came to a close on September 30, but we are pleased to say that USAID has awarded the five-year follow-on program, named TUSHINDI, to IMA World Health and partners. TUSHINDI means “we overcome” in Swahili, and it starts this month. Please join me in praying for wisdom and guidance for Dr. Alice, her colleagues and all the TUSHINDI partners as they start this new phase and lead communities in this transformative work. Please pray for the survivors that they would find healing, peace and a supportive community as they rebuild their lives.
Thank you for your prayers and financial support that enable us to work here in Congo. We are grateful for your continued support.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
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