In memoriam, Lyn Lusi
Terribly sad news tonight from Goma: HEAL Africa cofounder and program manager Lyn Lusi has died. Everyone who knew Lyn is heartbroken, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Dr. Jo, Nadine, Paluku, and the rest of the family.
To say what one is supposed to say in these circumstances - "She will be missed," "God rest her soul" - seems utterly inadequate to capture Lyn's life. She came to what was then Zaire as a young woman, sent by British Baptists as a missionary teacher. Lyn fell in love with Jo, and after that, she never really left. Yes, they left Congo for a time during the difficult years, as almost everyone did, but their strong sense of responsibility and calling brought them back to Goma to serve, first with Jo working in a local hospital, and eventually by building their own. It was not simply a health care facility, though; the original purpose of what is today HEAL was to train medical professionals to work under some of the most trying conditions on the planet. And that they did. Lyn once jokingly told me that the only reason they opened the hospital was that their students needed patients on which to learn.
And learn they did; as the traumas of war and poverty and the utter incapacity of the Congolese authorities to run a health care system, HEAL became one of the very best providers in the region. It is still the only place offering orthopedic surgery, and is one of about four hospitals in the Kivus that are able to offer high-quality care for fistula and other gynecological traumas. Lyn always viewed HEAL's mission as an holistic one, and insisted that its mission be broader than simply supporting physical health. To that end, she was integral in starting the Nehemiah Committees, which provide an interfaith platform for dispute resolution at the community level throughout the countryside. Under Lyn's management, HEAL also identified and trained a network of women to serve as rape crisis counselors in rural areas, helping victims of violence who might not otherwise have known help was available to access critical medial and psychosocial services.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Lyn's work saved thousands upon thousands of lives.
I first met Lyn and Jo as a young graduate student, desperate for contacts and needing a lot of help to navigate the vagaries of the intersection of state and civil society in Goma. This was just before HEAL Africa - then called DOCS - became a famous place, before the world was talking about the rape crisis and a parade of celebrities, researchers, and do-gooders started traipsing through the hospital on a weekly basis. Lyn handled the transition from small clinic to internationally-known hospital with aplomb. There were frustrations and challenges, to be sure, but Lyn's patience seemed to be infinite. She never rolled her eyes at yet another student coming through the doors to write the definitive master's thesis on "Rape in the Eastern Congo" and she leveraged the attention brought by the rape crisis to garner support for HEAL's many other critical programs.
On a more personal note, Lyn was one of the first people I met in Goma who really believed in the value of my dissertation project. She took my ideas seriously, believed they were worth exploring, and did all she could to help me get through. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that I wouldn't have finished without her; she made introductions and opened doors that made it possible to get the interviews and data I needed. I honestly don't know how I would have done it without her. Lyn believed in community-led and community-centered development. Her wisdom shaped much of my thinking about Congolese agency and the transformative power of community-based development.
It is a sad night in Goma, and it will be sad there for some time to come. I'm trying to think where they will hold the funeral, and how they will accommodate the thousands who will turn up to honor Mama Lyn with songs and dancing and talk of the deep, deep love that motivated her to care for so many. Lyn Lusi is irreplaceable. And, oh, she will be missed.
To make a donation in Lyn's memory, visit the HEAL Africa donation page.
The Heal Africa tribute to Lyn is posted here.