This blog was authored by Mussa Stanis, the Knowledge Management and Communications Lead in the DRC for the USAID-funded MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience project, led by IMA World Health. His blog is also posted on the MOMENTUM blog here.
The journey from my village to my job with MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience was a difficult one.
I was born into a polygamous family of 16 children in Mbutu, a small village in Maniema province in the central-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). There is a lot of mining in this part of the country, but most people are subsistence farmers or laborers. My father, a local tribunal judge and teacher, died when I was only four years old, and six of my siblings have also passed away. My brothers and sisters and I received equal opportunities and much encouragement to be confident in our abilities and pursue long-term studies.
In 1994, Rwandan Hutu refugees fled to the DRC after the Rwanda genocide. Two years later, a brutal civil war broke out in the DRC. In what has become perhaps the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II, roughly six million Congolese have died in the war, while millions more have endured widespread human rights abuses. The fighting, which continues in the eastern part of my country, has devastated our economy and infrastructure, and has caused massive physical and psychological damage. Our education, healthcare, legal and road systems remain in shambles.
I was nine years old when the war broke out. My siblings and I often had to hide in the bush to escape the fighting. The schools were closed so I spent my days fetching water, pounding grain and taking care of the house when my mom left home each day to earn money to support us. I thought that if I could close my ears, I would not hear the shelling anymore. I told myself that if I survived, I would finish school someday and work to help my community.
In 2009, at the age of 24, I got my wish when I received my master’s degree from Uganda’s Kampala International University in International Relations and Diplomatic Studies. I decided to return to the DRC and serve my country through local NGOs focused on child protection. For four years, I worked in the field of disarmament and demobilization for children associated with the armed forces to reunite them with their families. Most of the children were traumatized after being forcibly recruited as child soldiers in the conflict.
In 2020, MOMENTUM began working closely with the government and national and local organizations so women, children and families could have access to high-quality and respectful maternal, newborn, and child healthcare, voluntary family planning, and reproductive health services, through the private and public sectors. MOMENTUM works in some of the world’s most fragile and conflict-affected settings to improve the health of those who live there.
In April 2022, I joined MOMENTUM as the Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist in our Goma office. I am doing my childhood dream job, serving vulnerable groups affected by war and disaster.
A big part of my communications tasks is to report on the stories and results of MOMENTUM’s work from the communities we serve. Every day there is something new to discover. For example, as part of the larger objectives of building capacity, strengthening the quality of care at health facilities, and improving overall service delivery, MOMENTUM installed solar panels in several health facilities in my area. These relatively simple devices have been vital to meeting our larger project goals. I got to take photos and speak with mothers who can now give birth safely at night and the staff who are better able to attend to them because of improved lighting.
The most challenging aspect of my job is dealing with complex environments every day, amid war and other conflicts, epidemics, even a volcanic eruption. In the field, I communicate with a lot of the people we serve. They ask me questions I cannot answer like, “When will the war finish? When will Ebola finish?”
Every day, I see MOMENTUM’s impact: People receive COVID-19 information and vaccines, mothers and children have better prenatal, delivery and postnatal care, and community health workers are better trained to work in their districts. Sometimes, when I ask people in the community about their hopes for the future, they tell me, “Mussa, I want to work with MOMENTUM, just like you!” This provides me with the motivation to keep serving every day.