In this vast, damaged, neglected place her husband Jo, a Congolese and, like her, an ardent Baptist, was the only orthopaedic surgeon for 8m people. He alone had the skill to mend the crushed arms, the crooked feet. Irrepressible as he was, bubbling over with plans, he often used the image of a little bucket bailing out an ocean. She preferred the words of Isaiah 61:1: “The Lord hath sent me…to bind up the brokenhearted.”
Their hospital at Goma had been set up in 2000 to train young Congolese doctors. Two years later the building was destroyed by a volcano; they built it again, low brightly painted buildings behind battered metal gates, and called it HEAL Africa. By 2011 they had trained 30 doctors there, often with the help of students from American medical schools. Yet the hospital became most famous for something different. Hundreds of the patients were women with genital fistulas, or tears: some caused by childbirth, but a startling number the result of rape by militiamen.
This, too, was hidden in darkness. Mrs Lusi was unaware of it until 2002, when a sobbing young woman came to her office. She realised then that horrific sexual violence was taking place in every village round Goma. Women working in the fields, or girls as young as five walking back from the market, would be abducted and raped repeatedly. Sticks and guns were forced into their vaginas. Sometimes the guns were fired. The brutalised victims, once home, would often be disowned by their families.
Over almost a decade HEAL Africa treated 4,800 such cases. The women would arrive in buses, traumatised after travelling for hours and stinking with the urine and faeces that leaked from their injuries. At the hospital, energetic local “Mamas” recruited by Mrs Lusi would welcome them and wrap them in their arms. “Love in action”, she called it, and she too was “Mama Lyn” to everybody there.
She was not a doctor. Her only training, after the degree in French that took her to Congo in 1971 to teach in church schools, was in administration. Handling paperwork was her job both at the church hospital at Nyankunde, where she and Jo worked for 19 years, and at HEAL Africa, where “programme manager” was the unexciting title she gave herself. It frustrated her to sit among a mountain of papers; but the role of a background worker, patiently picking up after Jo, also suited her. She did not want accolades, though she got many, and both gorgeous George Clooney and Hillary Clinton came to call on her. At fed-up times she revived by chatting to the remarkable, recovering women outside. If she felt bogged down, she had only to remember that God with his strong hands would haul her out and set her feet in a firm place. She had once risked rape herself, when militiamen stopped her car on the road to Kigali at night. He had saved her then, and would again.
The fact was that he intended her to be there. Like Jo, she was meant to heal. “Isn’t that a beautiful word?” she would say. The letters stood for Health, Education, Action, Love. Healing meant not just of the body but of the whole person: mind, spirit and potential, bringing it back to work as God intended. And not just of the person but the whole community, teaching villagers to bind up wounds, support each other and provide for themselves. While her patients were in hospital she saw that they were taught to read and write, or to use a sewing machine, in order to go back skilled and confident as well as healed.
Single tiny points
It had taken her time, too, to build up confidence. A Ramsgate girl, from England’s soft south-east, she was horrified when she first arrived in teeming, filthy, sweltering Kinshasa. Her French was the wrong sort, incomprehensible to her pupils, and she seemed unlikely either to prosper or stay. But apart from a few short spells abroad, mostly to keep her two children safe from the worst of the war, she never left Congo. Her determined mission was to tell the world about this place.
In other ways, too, she defied the darkness. In the hard black basalt of Goma she managed to grow sweet peas and roses; she liked to walk among them to say her morning prayers. What she was doing, she reflected sometimes, was very small. It seemed no more than nurturing single tiny points of candle flame. But she had faith that, eventually, they would all join up to make a huge blaze of light.
© THE ECONOMIST 2012 Reproduced with thanks.
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