IMA World Health/Staff

Dick Durbin, U. S. Senator for Illinois, recently addressed his colleagues about meeting Lyn Lusi, the former Chief of Party for the USAID-funded USHINDI program in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lyn recently passed away after a long-term fight with cancer. For more about Lyn click here.

Below is a transcript of Senator Durbin’s remarks.



Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, we are given an opportunity in the Senate to witness many things that have an impact on our values and on our votes. I have found that, of course, representing my own State and knowing the challenges families face from one end of the State to the other has really driven me in terms of my legislative agenda—the things that are important to me. That is my first priority.

As I have traveled across the United States, I have found other issues that are of great magnitude and have real import when it comes to the lives of people across this Nation. I have also taken some time to visit countries overseas, knowing that the United States is part of a world community and that even though the amount of money we may invest may be small, it can have a profound impact on some of the poorest places on Earth.

It was about 6 years ago that I made my first visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was a part of Africa that I had never seen before, and I went to the city of Goma. Goma, in the eastern reaches of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is remote from the capital of that country and has unfortunately become a site where thousands of innocent people have been killed.

When I visited Goma, it was clear that it suffered from some of the worst problems of the region: poverty, obviously; disease and war; and troops who left Rwanda after the genocide were living in the jungles of Goma. People were being preyed upon and killed, raped, mutilated. Then, on top of all of that, in Goma sits a volcano that erupts with some frequency, so as one walks through the streets and into the refugee camps, one finds this dried crystalline lava that is almost like broken glass, people walking on it, living on it, trying to make a life in little holes dug out in the lava. It is something one never forgets and I have never forgotten. I went there, of course, taking a look at some of our important programs we deal with. The most important, of course, is trying to bring peace to the region.

One of the most serious issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the fact that in these eastern regions are precious minerals which are critical for the development of new technology. We carry in our cell phones minerals which are found more frequently in that part of Africa than in most other places around the world. Because there is little or no government reach in these areas, there are people who have taken over the mining of these minerals and make millions of dollars off of them using slave labor and terrorizing the local people, pushing them into refugee camps.

I am working with Congressman Jim McDermott of the State of Washington to try to establish some standards, as well as former Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. The object behind that, of course, is to trace the minerals so that those respectable, law-abiding companies in the West will not be buying these conflict minerals. We are working. It is hard. The Securities and Exchange Commission is trying to promulgate a rule to implement something we passed in Dodd-Frank with Senator Brownback’s leadership on a bipartisan basis.

My memory of Goma goes back to a specific scene and a specific visit. It was more than 6 years ago. We were invited to tour a hospital. We went to this hospital. And to say it was a hospital by American standards—no American would agree. Searching inside the hospital, we found one modern surgical suite. It was paid for by the United Nations. Then we went to the wards where the patients were—virtually all women—and found them two to a bed recovering from surgeries.

Outside the hospital, sitting on this lava bed that really covers the city, along the road were dozens of women waiting for their turn. They are the victims of something known as obstetric fistula, which means they have either been brutally attacked, sexually attacked, or were bearing children at such an early age that it caused damage to them, which has left them incontinent. Because of their incontinence, they were rejected by their families and neighbors and forced to walk hundreds of miles to sit in the roadway and pray that they could get inside that hospital for a surgery to repair this obstetric fistula. Many of them, because of the severity of their injuries, went through multiple surgeries, so they would sit on the road and wait for weeks, go in for a surgery, recover, and then go to the back of the line and start over for the next surgery. That was the reality of the hospital we visited. The scene was grim, even horrific. I still remember it well.

The reason I come to the floor today is that I made a return trip 2 years ago with Senator Sherrod Brown to Goma and to look up this hospital—this small little oasis of hope—to try to find a handful of doctors who had been there when I visited just a few years before to see what had happened. I knew the hospital continued to treat desperately poor and brutalized women of the region who had suffered because of brutal rape and horrific violence.

For two decades now, this war has gone on, which has led to these victims. Regional militias have been fighting over these minerals I mentioned earlier, too often using rape as a weapon of war. According to the United Nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the worst place on Earth to be a woman. Regional war and rape leave an estimated 1,000 or more women assaulted every single day, so 1,000 or more rapes and sexual assaults every day, or 12 percent of Congolese women—one of eight—have been victims.

Yet there is hope. That small hospital I saw years ago gave me hope. The two people who started that hospital were Lyn Lusi and her Congolese husband Dr. Jo Lusi. They founded this hospital and called it Heal Africa. It is in one of the most forgotten and dangerous places on the Earth—Goma in eastern Congo. Lyn and her husband Jo provided a place of love, hope, rebirth, and healing.

There was a special on PBS’s “NewsHour” recently that talked about Heal Africa, the hospital, and Lyn and Jo Lusi. They survive on $13 million a year—a huge sum in that part of the world but by global standards or American standards hardly overwhelming. They get private grants from overseas. They provide antiretroviral drugs to those suffering from HIV, and they try to repair the bodies of these traumatized women.

The PBS “NewsHour” special on Heal Africa showed how the hospital works with the American Bar Association—and I want to give a shoutout to them for the work they are doing in Goma—to help rape victims pursue justice against their attackers. The country virtually has no judicial system. It is the only facility offering services to an area population of 8 million people. Eight million people—I try to imagine one hospital in metropolitan Chicago, and that is what Heal Africa is in Goma.

In a moving “NewsHour” interview, Lyn Lusi said:

I have no illusions that we’re dealing with major issues that are pulling Congo apart. There is so much evil and so much cruelty, so much selfishness, and it is like darkness. But if we can bring in some light, the darkness will not overcome the light, and that’s where faith is, if you believe that. I don’t think Heal Africa is going to empty the ocean, but we can take out a bucketful here and a bucketful there.

That sentiment and that hope—amid such cruelty and devastation—summed up Lyn Lusi’s heroic work and the work of her husband.

As I reflect on what I saw in my first trip to Goma and what I saw when I returned, there was a dramatic change in just a few short years. This Heal Africa, which was barely existing, with a handful of surgeons, now has become a training hospital, with American universities taking part.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Goma and Heal Africa—this very hospital—to focus the world’s attention on the region. The violence in eastern Congo is part of an ongoing conflict and about 3 million to 5 million people have died there so far—and it continues.

As I said, the roots of the conflict go back to the Rwandan genocide, the fight over minerals, elements of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army—this Kony fella, who now people are starting to take notice of, a butcher in his own right—and elements of the Congolese Army who have been involved in human rights abuses.

There is a 20,000 member United Nations peacekeeping force in the region. It has been there for more than 10 years. I do not know how they can maintain any semblance of order without them. I salute the United Nations and those who are on the ground trying to keep a peaceful situation.

We saw sprawling refugee camps on broken lava, human rights workers who bravely documented horrific sexual violence, and dire poverty and warlords amid any semblance of a functional national or local government. Stopping at Lyn and Jo Lusi’s hospital was the highlight of the trip.

When I was at Heal Africa on the second visit, I looked and saw a classroom filled with doctors. In fact, standing in front of them was a doctor from the University of Wisconsin. He was wearing a T-shirt which had the Wisconsin Badger on it. That is how I noticed it right off the bat. That is where my daughter went to college. He said: Yes, these are all students from medical schools around the United States, coming here to learn and to help.

Today, the hospital has trained 30 young Congolese doctors and many other health workers. They will have an important job for many years to come.

The reason I come to the floor is because we received sad news. Lyn Lusi—whose picture I show here in the Chamber with her husband Jo—was truly the heart and soul of Heal Africa in Goma. The two of them gave their lives for the poorest people on Earth. They struggled and persevered and conquered so many obstacles that many of us never ever see in life.

We just got word this morning that Lyn passed away from cancer. I wished to come to the floor and remember her and the great work she has done, which I am sure will be carried on by Jo her husband and all those who have been inspired by our visit.

To think that this woman would go to one of the poorest places on Earth and dedicate her life to help others should inspire every single one of us.

Lyn Lusi was like a mother to 400 employees of Heal Africa and to thousands and thousands of women, children, and even men, for whom Heal Africa was their only source of quality, professional medical care.

Her death this weekend due to cancer is a terrible loss for Goma, it is a terrible loss for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and for Africa, and it is a terrible loss for every single one of us.

We need to make certain that what she gave her life to does not end but continues. We have to make certain her heroic efforts continue through her husband Jo and through all who have participated in making sure this lonely, tragic corner of the world is never forgotten.

I come to the floor to salute Lyn Lusi, her memory, her legacy, and her inspiration.

I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.