HEAL Africa proposes a pilot project in Katako, Maniema province, in which an integrated package of programs focused on disease prevention (ex: Malaria, and HIV), agricultural production, gender equality, women's empowerment, nutrition and environmental protection will all be addressed in the community. HEAL Africa works with the Congolese government and other aid organizations to advance national goals by providing resources and services to local communities in an accountable way. HEAL Africa's strategy for this commitment is a holistic approach to one village, identifying local actors already invested in positive change in their community, linking health with training in Congo's laws, conflict transformation skills, and communication skills that work to change the dynamics of decision-making in the village. In the long-term, HEAL Africa is committed to an integrated approach to community healing, recovery and development, with partners who are willing to take the risk of a locally-led, long-term approach.
HEAL Africa staff have worked in Maniema for seven years, and have achieved remarkable credibility at a variety of levels. Program staff has requested funding for a two year integrated approach model, which will focus on reducing competition between programs and increasing ownership locally. This approach will allow staff to introduce programs which are already familiar to trainers in a more integrated way in this new village. Behavioral change that affects health, education and community action is long-term. HEAL Africa is uniquely qualified to pioneer new initiatives utilizing health interventions as a door to advance peace and build communities.
HEAL Africa will begin in September 2012 to identify local associations - churches, school committees and parent groups, as well as tribal and village leaders - by leveraging the ties already in place in the surrounding areas. Local associations have the ability to be some of the most powerful agents of change in a community. By identifying and strengthening the capacity of these groups, a foundation will be created to launch this broad initiative into the wider community.
Capacity building and training activities will occur in November, 2012. One of the key elements of this phase is initial local buy-in and commitment necessary to see change implemented over a sustained period of time. In addition, it brings together those key catalysts for change, and places them in a wider network for synergistic planning and support.
After identifying, training and building a network of support among local associations, those groups in turn will take what they have learned and begin extending into the broader community, beginning January 2013. In this phase, they will not only be engaging individual community members, but also local actors such as small community based organizations, government health district officials, as well as individual community members.
As these activities move forward, these local associations will continue to meet in monthly meetings, coordinating their efforts and owning the responsibility of creating sustainable programs in the community. The key concept for change is that ownership must begin in the community.
Eastern DR Congo has been the scene of crisis and conflict for the past 19 years. Relief programs are short-term. The conditions of insecurity have made NGOs and governments hesitant to send personnel and fund programs for the long-term. Funding for specific sectors becomes available for specific time-periods, with specific measurable outcomes. Changes in behavior and in social conditions are more difficult. HEAL Africa's staff have worked in Maniema province for seven years, and have developed credibility with both government and local populations. These partners are Congolese, know the culture, the language, the customs, and are experienced trainers. They have established remarkable reputations in this province known in Congo as backward, broken and isolated.
HEAL Africa's work in Maniema began with victims of violence and repair of fistula, and expanded to loans and savings groups, access to justice, health clinics, and safe motherhood. Each of these programs was introduced as funding became available. An emphasis on women's empowerment has met with some backlash from men, yet traditional chiefs of four tribes have changed their customs because of this working relationship. It is clear that any community change will require acceptance from men, women and youth. This commitment is a pilot program to work in one new community with an integrated approach from the start. The goal is to bring access to improved health, communication, information and justice, and build capacity among local leaders to provide a framework for community transformation.