After seven years, 2017 was the last full year of implementation for the Ushindi project in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. But, because IMA World Health and our partners focused on training local champions, building resilience and facilitating cultural shifts in the villages we served, Ushindi’s impact will carry on.
“Through Ushindi, we were able to empower communities to address their own issues, and this started to break down the stigma around sexual and gender-based violence and expand our reach,” IMA Senior Technical Advisor Mary Linehan said.
In Eastern Congo, SGBV is both a tool of war and a prevailing cultural norm that causes serious medical, psychological, economic and social suffering for survivors, their families and communities. IMA’s holistic approach to addressing SGBV—incorporating social and financial recovery, as well as health—has made a lasting difference.
Through Ushindi, funded by the United States Agency for International Development, survivors of SGBV received essential medical care and counseling to heal their physical and psychological trauma. But for many survivors, their medical needs are just the beginning; some beneficiaries had their homes or entire villages burned, others were abandoned by their spouses or families and many carried a burden of public shame that isolated and further victimized them.
To support their full recovery, Ushindi also provided legal support to bring attackers to justice. Socio-economic support, such as income generation activities and village savings and loan associations, helped to address economic suffering while helping to reintegrate survivors into their communities.
Since 2010, Ushindi served more than 30,000 people in 1,118 villages.
The key that made this comprehensive approach work is IMA’s focus on educating and empowering local faith leaders, faith-based organizations and community groups called Noyaux Communautaires to serve as points of contact for SGBV survivors. With proper training and support, these community members are ideal advocates for identifying survivors, providing one-on-one peer counseling and referring survivors to health facilities and other support services. In Eastern Congo, faith leaders are highly trusted and respected; when they speak out about SGBV prevention and response, women’s rights and family planning, their communities listen.
“That is where the real work is,” Linehan said. “It’s not in the health facilities, but through mobile and local outreach within communities.”